Wall Street Journal Jumps On Claim That Mississippi Doesn't Need Section 5 Of The Voting Rights Act (Mississippi Disagrees)

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial praising the right-wing effort to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder and focused on the claim of Chief Justice John Roberts that Mississippi has the best African-American voter participation in the country. But the editors' claim that such turnout is evidence that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer necessary is directly refuted by Mississippi itself.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain jurisdictions with a past and present history of voter suppression on the basis of race or language to submit election changes for federal review before enactment. Although the historic law overall prohibits racial discrimination in election practices across the country, Section 5's power to stop proposed voter suppression before it goes into effect originally focused on the worst offenders, since updated to reflect recent evidence of disenfranchisement. As a member of the Old Confederacy with a sordid Jim Crow history, Mississippi is one of those bad actors.

Nevertheless, ignoring the fact that jurisdictions can choose to "bail-out" of Section 5 if they prove they no longer discriminate against voters of color, the WSJ editors held up Mississippi as a bizarre example of how the best way to "honor American racial progress" is to strike down the heart of the Voting Rights Act:

Is the American South--and for that matter the South Bronx--still so uniquely racist that it requires special supervision by the federal government over its election laws? That's the nub of the Supreme Court case that, judging by Wednesday's oral argument, could be another watershed in the American march toward racial equality.

[...]

[W]hy should Mississippi be treated differently than Massachusetts if its practices show better racial outcomes? Chief Justice John Roberts made this point forcefully Wednesday when he asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: "Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout?"

Mr. Verrilli: "I do not."

Chief Justice Roberts: "Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi."

The actual rankings of Mississippi and Massachusetts are already being questioned by freelance researcher James Carter IV. Carter, who  helped expose Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" comment, came up with different results on state voter turnout when he crunched the Census data. Such a discrepancy would be yet another example of how Congress - pursuant to the powers explicitly granted under the Fifteenth Amendment - is a better arbiter of this issue than the conservative Justices of the Supreme Court.

More importantly, however, Mississippi wants to remain covered by Section 5. Not only did Mississippi file an amicus brief in support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act the last time the Supreme Court considered the law in 2009, Mississippi did the exact same thing this time around in Shelby. From Mississippi's current amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court that (once again) argues Section 5 is still crucial today:

Shelby County, Alabama, challenges the preclearance process contained in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on the ground that the extraordinary problems of discrimination that led to its enactment in 1965 no longer exist, and that the burdens it imposes on States and localities are no longer justifiable. Amici States New York, California, Mississippi, and North Carolina are for several reasons particularly well qualified to provide the Court with a perspective that should inform any effort to resolve that claim.

Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and California are among the sixteen States covered in whole or in part by Section 5's preclearance process, and thus have extensive first-hand experience with the costs and benefits of its operation.

[...]

In the experience of Amici States, claims that the preclearance process imposes substantial burdens on the covered jurisdictions or unreasonably intrudes on state sovereignty are mistaken. Rather, for Amici States [as noted in the 2009 Voting Rights Case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder] "'[t]he benefits of Section 5 greatly exceed the minimal burdens that Section 5 may impose on States and their political subdivisions.'" Moreover, those claims wrongly minimize the significant and measurable benefits Section 5 has produced in helping Amici States move toward their goal of eliminating racial discrimination and inequities in voting. The Section 5 preclearance process has helped bring about tremendous progress in the covered jurisdictions and continues to be a vital mechanism to assist Amici States in working to achieve the equality in opportunities for political participation that is a foundational principle of our democracy.

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