by Rod D. Martin
June 25, 2013
The Supreme Court’s ruling today striking down pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the words of the Washington Examiner story describing the decision, “The court ruling leaves the preclearance tools in place, but eliminates the formula Congress used to decide who had to go through the special scrutiny. Chief Justice Roberts invited Congress to try to rewrite the formula to be more fair.”
Even so, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s criticism of the decision is fundamentally correct: the Supreme Court is essentially saying the Voting Rights Act has been so successful that it should be ended. And they’re right.
The idea that states like Mississippi and Alabama should be singled out, forever burdened and forever stigmatized for the racist acts of today’s citizen’s great grandparents is simply ludicrous. Congress might just as well strip South Carolina of its electoral votes in punishment for starting the Civil War (an act which would be precisely as constitutional as pre-clearance). No matter how many liberals pretend otherwise — as often as not, liberals who have never in their life seen a segregated school or a whites-only restroom — the old racism is gone.
The retort? There is a new racism, subtler, more insidious. And that’s half-right. There is today the subtle racism of people just not liking each other, just as there is or has been the subtle racism of “Pollock jokes” and Irish slurs.
But that’s an interpersonal issue, appropriate subject matter for sermons on loving thy neighbor. Moreover, it’s far from one-sided: you are much more likely to hear racial epithets today from black rappers than from white rednecks. As a middle schooler in small-town Arkansas, I once witnessed six of those redneck football players beat up a seventh for having called a black friend of theirs a certain ugly name. All the way back in 1983, “we weren’t in Kansas anymore”: how much more so now?
No, the racism targeted by the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act was the sort of ham-fisted use of governmental power by the white majority to oppress and hurt a whole group of people simply because of the color of their skin that might be best compared to South African apartheid, or Hitler’s war on Jews (minus the camps, of course). It involved segregation. It involved inferior education. It involved constant, public humiliation. It involved police brutality in an intentional, systematic campaign of terror. It certainly involved the denial of any meaningful participation in government, even on the simplest level: voting. And if you stepped out of line, white or black, you knew it was pretty likely your barn would be burned, your business would be blacklisted, and your women would be raped.
That world is gone.
Ronald Reagan said that no one can afford the size of government that could protect us from ourselves. I can’t stop West Side Story, and neither can Washington, D.C.
But pre-clearance, however unconstitutional it was (and it totally completely was, from the very beginning and not merely now), helped serve its purpose so completely and effectively that we live in a transformed America. We should celebrate that. And moreover, with the striking down of the old formula, we should further celebrate the Court’s establishment of that basic Biblical principle, that sons should not be punished for the sins of their fathers.
Believe me, we have plenty of our own.