The Supreme Court is not coming to the rescue on voting rights

Jun 26, 2018

It’s been three bad weeks in a row if you care about protecting the right to vote. In three straight weeks, the Supreme Court has ruled against efforts to defend the vote against efforts to suppress or dilute it across America.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could keep congressional district maps that a lower court had ruled to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander designed to dilute the voting power of minorities. Not only does the decision impact Texas voters, it suggests a broader ideological hostility to key provisions of Voting Rights Act on the Supreme Court.

On the same day, it also sent a key North Carolina gerrymandering case back to a lower court on technical grounds. This guarantees that for the fourth straight election cycle, North Carolina will hold elections with voting maps already ruled by a federal court to be “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

Last week, the court sent two high-profile partisan gerrymandering cases back to lower courts on technical grounds, leaving the critical issue unsettled for what will likely be at least another year, ensuring that millions will vote in elections with districts ruled unconstitutional years ago.

Two weeks ago, the court sided with Ohio and its aggressive measures to purge voters from the voting lists, which will disproportionately impact lower-income and minority citizens. Already, many states have indicated they will start following Ohio’s model, now that it has been blessed by the Supreme Court.

You don’t have to be a legal scholar to see a pattern here.

The Roberts court has consistently shown a hostility to the idea of defending voting rights or protecting voters from efforts to dilute their votes. In 2013, the court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that led to many of the current efforts to restrict voting rights. In the same year, the court embraced unlimited corporate campaign spending and rejected campaign finance regulations.

Add all these rulings up and it’s clear that the court believes that there is no harm in brazen efforts to diminish voting rights, dilute the voting power of minorities or parties out of power, or in billions of dollars in campaign donations.

It’s possible the Supreme Court might rule against partisan gerrymandering next year in the Wisconsin or North Carolina cases. Judge Kennedy might provide a key swing vote in such a ruling. But based on the past three weeks, why should we be optimistic?

The reality is that the Supreme Court isn’t coming to the rescue on voting rights. They’re not going to fix these problems.

The real solution is going to have to come from voters.

They’re going to have to follow the lead of voters in Michigan, Colorado, and Ohio who have pushed to take redistricting out of the hands of legislators and restrict, if not eliminate, gerrymandering.

They’re going to have to vote for Governors and Attorney Generals who will advocate to expand voting rights, not restrict them.

And they’re going to have to support a Presidential candidate in 2020 who will put justices on the Supreme Court who will defend voting rights in the future.

This is going to take a long time. But if the last three weeks have shown us anything, it’s that if we want to protect and expand voting rights in America, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.


More Election and voting rights news you might have missed this week…

1. The best read this week

If you read one article on voting rights this week, don’t miss Jessica Huseman’s excellent takedown of “voter fraud” scaremongers Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovsky, and Jesse Richman and how they were debunked in court: How the Case for Voter Fraud Was Tested — and Utterly Failed (Jessica Huseman, ProPublica)


2. A closer look at the impact of the Supreme Court’s Husted ruling

Don’t miss this deep dive into the significant impact of the ruling on Ohio’s voting purge. Check out “Why the Supreme Court’s Voter-Purge Ruling Is So Damaging.” (John Nichols, The Nation)


3. A comprehensive overview of voting law changes since 2016

ProPublica created an essential resource for looking at all the voting law changes, state-by-state, since 2016. It’s not all bad news; just mostly bad news. (ProPublica)


4. North Carolina GOP continues its legislative looting of the state election system

Not content to gerrymander the hell out of North Carolina and foist Voter ID laws on the Tar Heel state, GOP legislators also want to rig judicial elections in their favor by amending the state constitution. And why not? Nobody can stop them. At least until after November. They’re getting all they can now before it may be too late. (Gary B. Robertson, Associated Press)


5. “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for”

I’ll be honest, this has been the most discouraging week since I’ve started the Battle for the Ballot. Grim and depressing.

So let me close with this totally gratuitous image of a basket of puppies…. See you next week!