On NRO today, Edward Blum of AEI has an incredibly important column about the sheer perfidy of President Bush and top Repubs in both houses of Congress introducing legislation to renew Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. I’ve written on this many times. Whereas most of the Voting Rights Act is permanent, as it should be, Section 5 originally was only supposed to last for five years. That was about 40 years ago. What Section 5 does is require the time-consuming process of “preclearance” from the Justice Department for ANY change in election procedures in several suspect (read: Southern) states. Blum explains why this is, philosophically, a horrible provision. What he doesn’t make clear is that, in practical terms, Section 5 is even worse than it looks on paper. DoJ has to weigh in on election changes as small as moving a polling place from, say, a school’s gym to the same school’s cafeteria. Examples are numerous of local election officials running into problems even holding elections on time while waiting for DoJ officials to get around to preclearing such changes. Thurbert E. Baker, the black, Democratic attorney general of Georgia, has argued vociferously AGAINST Section 5, because it’s a bureaucratic nightmare and because, in the name of blocking discrimination against blacks (which is what the other sections of the Voting Rights Act already do, and do well, as well they should), it instead discriminates against entire states by assuming they are guilty of nefarious shenanigans until proven innocent. Of course, white Republicans attorneys general, such as Bill Pryor of Alabama (now, thank goodness, a federal appeals judge) have made the same points many times.
This is serious stuff. Yet Bush and Specter and company, pandering to …well, to whomever the heck they think they are trying to impress…are pushing pell-mell for the renewal of this ill-advised, unethical, and even perhaps unconstitutional, measure to be renewed. Congress should defeat their efforts — and if not, somebody should take them to court and argue, using the (what passes for) logic of Sandra Day O’Connor (who famously wrote in Grutter v Bollinger that that which is constitutional at one point may not be constitutional many years later), that Section 5, being no longer a reasonable remedy for past discrimination, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Not to mention an abomination.