Usually it takes years to judge when the Supreme Court gets something very wrong. Think of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the court in the 2010 campaign-finance case, Citizens United, freeing corporations to spend money on elections. He wrote that the “appearance of [corporate] influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy,” a point that remains hotly debated even as the amount of money in federal elections skyrockets.
But the conservative justices’ decision this past June in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, has already unleashed in North Carolina the most restrictive voting law we’ve seen since the 1965 enactment of the VRA. Texas is restoring its voter ID law which had been blocked (pursuant to the VRA) by the federal government. And more is to come in other states dominated by Republican legislatures.
Substituting their own judgment for that of Congress, the five justices in the Shelby County majority expressed confidence that the act’s “preclearance” provision was no longer necessary, and that there would be ample other tools to fight discrimination in voting. That the conservative justices have already been proven wrong a few scant weeks after the decision came down offers little solace for the voters of North Carolina, who ironically will have to try to fix the problem using the very mechanism of voting—which the North Carolina legislature is inhibiting.