Last Thursday, a 6-3 Supreme Court dealt a death blow to the Voting Rights Act—arguably the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation in America’s history. This came eight years after a 5-4 Supreme Court weakened the VRA significantly, setting the table for last week’s decision. Both opinions were written by Chief Justice John Roberts, whose forty-year quest to make life as hard as possible for minority voters has finally come to fruition.
A brief primer: the VRA was originally enacted in 1965, and extended and expanded five times over the next 40 years by Congresses and presidents of both parties. Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Act required jurisdictions with histories of racist voter discrimination policies to receive DOJ approval before enacting new, potentially restrictive policies. The Supreme Court struck that down in 2013. You may be shocked to learn that their decision led to new restrictive voting laws in numerous states literally within hours!
After that part of the VRA was gone, all that was left was Section 2—a general provision prohibiting states from passing new voting laws that discriminate based on race, color, or language minority status. The Court has now set the bar for proving that discrimination at an unattainably high level, and Section 2 is a dead letter. The legal pinnacle of the civil rights movement is gone.
Professor Rick Hasen, likely the country’s foremost expert on election law and voting rights, responded to last week’s decision by saying that the Court “is putting our democratic form of government at risk… a state can now assert an interest in preventing fraud to justify a law without proving that fraud is actually a serious risk.”
And therein lies the rub: “voter fraud” is the Republican party’s bogeyman. It is their bad-faith basis for voter discrimination laws, for unhinged election “audits,” and for mob violence. Today is the six-month anniversary of hundreds of Trump supporters breaking into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election and murder high-profile Democratic politicians and former Vice President Pence. The New York Times last week released a new, comprehensive video analysis of January 6. It is among the most frightening and disturbing things I’ve ever watched—and all that violence was born entirely from lies of election fraud.
Meanwhile, the former president has restarted his hateful rallies, complete with the same lie that has already caused several deaths (“If you say it enough and keep saying it, they’ll start to believe you,” a rare true statement of his). A prominent member of the Capitol mob joined several Congressional Republicans on a trip to the southwest border last week. Senator Ron Johnson has had a spate of media appearances arguing that the insurrection wasn’t a big deal, actually. Congressman Andrew Clyde, who can be seen in pictures of Jan. 6 helping to barricade doors to the House floor, described the riot as a “normal tourist visit.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson claims that the insurrection was an FBI false flag operation, and two members of Congress have now echoed that conspiracy. We’re not in a good place, folks.
So here’s the state of affairs: one of the two major political parties sees voting fraud around every corner and uses that specter to restrict voting rights. The Supreme Court has blessed that approach entirely, giving the green light to make voting as difficult as possible in ways that will predominantly affect minority voters. The former president and numerous members of his party embrace and spread fraud conspiracies, which in turn lead to mass violence by their supporters, over half of whom wholeheartedly believe that the 2020 election was stolen. And we’re not even five months into the new administration, and only one term into the new Supreme Court.
These problems are not going away anytime soon. America has devolved into two opposed realities, with the notable distinction that one such reality is, well, real. With the juggernaut media apparatus of Fox News amplifying constant lies and the insular information-sharing communities of social media, it doesn’t matter how many actual journalists and news outlets push back on those lies. It doesn’t matter that I’m trying to push back on it with my tiny audience here. I recognize that I’m basically just screaming into the void. But our democracy is dying, and I’ve gotta scream somewhere.