Almost all of the news media is reporting that the Supreme Court gutted the voting rights act this morning. That is both deceptive and factually incorrect. The court has specifically avoided ruling on the constitutionality of the voting rights act, instead leaving it to the Congress to decide, most recently sidestepping the questions in the June 22, 2009 decision. It did not address the question of whether or not the law itself is permissible.
The Supreme Court did not strike down the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court struck down the current formula that is used to determine whether or not a specific part of the country has to get permission from the Federal Government before changing its voting procedures. The system that the Justice Department had been using is based on out-of-date statistics and methodology that were supposed to only be in place for five years. Instead, they kept being extended until they are now 40 years old, and had been renewed so that they weren’t set to expire until 2031. It is absolutely insane that people would think it is a good idea to use data that is 66 years old to determine current policy, yet that is what had been put in place and would remain for another 18 years until the existing expiration was triggered; though history tells us it probably would have been extended yet one more time.
So here we are, in 2013, using data and methodology that is decades out of date to determine which states have problems with racism instead of updating the information to modern society. That data is a older than I am. My mother was in elementary school when it was put in place. In fact, the median American citizen is only 35 years old, so this formula is now older than a majority of the people who live in the country!
As per the Justice Department’s website, the areas that had to cede sovereignty on voting laws were determined by state or political areas where “less than 50 percent of persons of voting age were registered to vote on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 percent of persons of voting age voted in the presidential election of November 1964.” That was so long ago that my grandmother couldn’t even vote, yet, as the 26th amendment to the Constitution that lowered the voting age to eighteen hadn’t yet been ratified. They weren’t using a trailing provision or anything like that; it’s all still based off 1964 statistics – basic mathematics tells you that a majority of the people who voted in that election are dead. In the 1970’s Congress updated the test to the 1968 election. Then in 1975, it was updated again to reference the November 1972 election. From then on, we just kept extending it but letting the formula fall out of date as years, then decades, passed.
The Supreme Court did not say you couldn’t have a Voting Rights Act. It did not say that, given the egregious history of racism, the Federal Government couldn’t take extraordinary measures to limit the sovereignty of the particular states and local jurisdictions that had engaged in a consistent pattern of constitutional violations against its minority citizens by requiring pre-clearance of any changes in voting laws. No, it said that the data and methodology were now so arcaic that they were no longer justified and a new calculation had to be put in place, which Congress has the power to do. It said that the formula had to be updated to 2013, not pull from elections that happened generations ago.
In fact, Congress could pass a new law that was identical in almost every respect as the old provision, but change the wording to read that there is a trailing test of, say, the past two or three Presidential election voter registration patterns that determine whether there is discrimination.
It’s pretty much a non-story in that all it should require is for the House and Senate to get together and change a few words, President Obama sign the law, and it gets very little newsprint. The reason people are reacting this way is because nobody has faith that Congress will pass a bill that almost everyone agrees is necessary and has done a lot of good for countless people. There is nothing controversial here – the Congress should order pizzas, get together, and pass it in a day. That’s how basic this thing is. It shouldn’t be political at all.
The way the media has portrayed this story demonstrates that they think the American people are stupid. Most folks, if you sat them down and explained the difference between the Voting Rights Act and the formula they used, would be able to understand it in under two or three minutes. It’s not that complicated. “Hey, the Supremes said we can’t keep punishing certain counties and states for what they did in 1964, we can only punish them for recent crimes, so we need to change the date on the law so that it re-evaluates them every decade or so.”
See? It’s not hard.
If I had unlimited funds, I’d start a newspaper that did nothing but report facts with absolute zero slant at all, even on issues I cared about deeply. The sole guiding focus would be “Who, What, Where, When, Why” and require verification of multiple sources. I can’t imagine it would be profitable, though, after the stupidity that passes for news these days – the front page of CNN has stories at this moment that include:
- “T-shirt angers Taylor Swift fans”,
- “77-year-old golfer to pose nude”,
- “Epic battle: Dog vs. baby duck”, and
- “Obama: I’m not that sexy.”
If I had unchecked legal power for the day, I’d bring back media ownership restrictions because the merger and corporate consolidation of the news providers in the United States is, in my opinion, one of the greatest threats to our long-term felicity and security. A fearless reporter at a family-owned paper a couple of generations ago could be protected by the owner’s willingness to pursue what he thought was right. Now, no one wants to report on anything controversial in case it alienates people and causes advertising profits to dip, which, ironically, is causing the news to become worthless and accelerating the decline.
I’d do it to banks, too. I think the consolidation of banking and media into a handful of giant enterprises has done tremendous damage to a lot of people that far exceed the benefits.
Edit: I don’t mean to sound down on the United States – things are still overwhelmingly good. I just can’t stand that the media now caters to the lowest common denominator, much like the average public school district, and our Congress is so dysfunctional that it can’t even pass simple legislation.