Abusing the Voting Rights Act
The redistricting process for congressional and state-legislative seats will soon begin in earnest. All redistricting plans must meet the “one person, one vote” equal-protection standard established by the Supreme Court, which means that districts are supposed to be as even in population as possible.
But redistricting also must comply with the Voting Rights Act, and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division just released its new “Guidance Concerning Redistricting Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” This guidance, which affects redistricting in all or parts of 16 states, is almost guaranteed to cause problems for Republicans.
When the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965, Section 5 was supposed to be a temporary, emergency provision. It prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change in their voting laws unless those changes are pre-cleared by the Justice Department or approved by a three-judge panel in federal court in Washington. This 45-year-old “emergency” provision has been renewed four separate times, most recently in 2006. That renewal gave the section 25 years of new life, despite a complete lack of evidence that the type of systematic discrimination that led to its initial passage still exists. Indeed, Congress even changed the Section 5 legal standardto make it easier for the Justice Department to cause mischief.