In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, giving weight to the 15th Amendment and bringing an end to the legal discrimination against minority voters. It abolished Jim Crow laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and required historically discriminatory jurisdictions to get Justice Department approval before changing election laws or redrawing district lines. Nine states, mostly in the South, and counties in five other states must file for Justice Department preclearance.
Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and President George W. Bush signed the renewal into law, but some of the jurisdictions governed by the law say that its time has passed. Among them is Shelby County, which has challenged the Voting Rights Act and could see its legal challenge advance to the highest court in the land. A federal appeals court heard the case again last month, and a move by the Justice Department could put the appeal on track to reach the United States Supreme Court.
Most of the legal challenges focus on the troublesome red tape associated with preclearance, but the law has caused other problems, as well. Gerrymandered districts, both state and federal, have put minority voters in political quarantine and polarized politics.
Birmingham News columnist John Archibald attacked the Voting Rights Act Sunday, saying that it has made Alabama politics more segregated than ever before.
Because conscience and convention caught up to us. The Voting Rights Act, paving the way to our hell with its good intentions, taught us what’s what. Now, in this enlightened age, we do things differently.
Now our segregation is federally sanctioned. Which means, for the foreseeable future, it is all but assured. Politically, anyway.
Because we have gerrymandered ourselves into a corner. Even the way we elect our congressional representatives divides us and derides us. It separates us by race and party, class and caste. It assures our politicians preach only to the choirs who elected them.
In his column, Archibald quotes former Rep. Artur Davis as a critic of the Voting Rights Act, or at least its “modern interpretation.” Davis, who represented the 7th Congressional District that was all but created by the law, said the law is a self-fulling prophesy and presumes race is the driving factor in Southern politics.
Davis says such districting has “pushed black politics in a shriller, more partisan direction.” But of course it has had the same effect on the other side of the aisle.
What makes Davis’ comments so peculiar is that, when the law was up for renewal six years ago, Davis was among its most vocal supporters. At the time, Davis blasted Republican lawmakers who were stonewalling the renewal, the Los Angels Times Reported.
“Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party cannot bring its own rank-and-file members into line to support the Voting Rights Act,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who represents Selma and Birmingham — the sites of seminal events in the civil rights movement that produced the bill in 1965. “That ought to be a significant embarrassment as they fan around the country trying to skim off a few black votes in the next four months.”