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Opinion

July 1, 2013

Column: Court ruling on voting law underscores U.S. divide

Bonnie Erbe

In many ways our country is united, but in just as many ways the United States seems like two nations. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling overturning part of the Voting Rights Act exemplified our differences.

We are divided politically, that is for sure, with a predominance of liberals on the east and west coasts and in large cities. We’re also divided racially and see things from very different perspectives, despite our attempts to make things otherwise.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the 5-4 majority in throwing out one section of the Voting Rights Act. He was joined by the other conservative justices -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito -- and swing voter Anthony M. Kennedy. They agreed, as Roberts wrote, that “strong medicine” applied to Southern states guilty of routine and pronounced electoral fraud in the 1960s is no longer needed.

“At the same time,” Roberts noted, “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.’ “

In shorthand: Jim Crow is dead, today’s South is not the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s South, and the laws that guarded against voter fraud must come down.

The court threw out the act’s “preclearance provisions.” In the 1960s, Congress made up a list of state and local governments that had discriminated against voters in the past and required them to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures.

Those changes included anything from the seemingly small and benign to the overwhelming. Knowing that things had changed drastically since the ‘60s, Congress in 2006 voted to keep preclearance in place.

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