The ultra-right dominated Supreme Court began hearing a new case today that could lead to yet another historic blow to the Voting Rights Act. The case, Merrill v. Milligan, revolves around a challenge to the map of congressional districts drawn up by the state government of Alabama. The borders of the districts were so clearly designed to minimize the political influence of Black voters that a federal court ruled it to be illegal. Under the racist state government’s map, there is only one majority-Black congressional district even though 27% of the state’s population is Black.
But Alabama’s Secretary of State is appealing the case to the Supreme Court in order to give this unelected body of right-wing millionaires an opportunity to overturn Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 states that new voting laws or other changes to a state’s electoral system can be challenged in court on the grounds that they are racially discriminatory. The Supreme Court appears determined to dramatically curtail this right.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was one of the key pieces of legislation that ended what was effectively a system of apartheid rule in the United States. The exclusion of Black people from formal participation in the political system was key to overturning the period of democracy after the Civil War known as Reconstruction and establishing in its place a regime of white supremacist terror. For this reason, the Voting Rights Act has always been hated by those who want to turn back the clock to the period of overt racial dictatorship that prevailed for most of U.S. history. This is a fight of huge significance.
Unable to entirely overturn African Americans’ right to vote as enshrined in the 15th Amendment, a major section of the capitalist ruling class and their political elite hope to render Black voters’ choices effectively meaningless by dispersing them across congressional districts where they will always be in the minority. And they think the Supreme Court offers their best chance of success.
The Supreme Court already struck one major blow against the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the Shelby decision, which invalidated Section 5 of the law. Section 5 required that any changes made to the election system by the governments of any of the former Jim Crow states be approved by the federal Department of Justice. After this crucial safeguard was removed, a wave of voter suppression laws were passed across the country at the state level. These laws were concentrated in areas with the most extreme histories of anti-Black discrimination, but were also designed to disenfranchise poor people of all backgrounds.
The Shelby ruling made Section 2 all the more important. Unable to stop racist election regulations at their outset, people at least had the right to sue after they were passed. But the Supreme Court wants to end that.
Since they are unable to mobilize a majority of the population behind their ultra reactionary agenda, the right wing of the ruling class wants to curtail all forms of popular participation in the government to the greatest extent possible. The Supreme Court is their preferred weapon to carry out this attack on the most basic democratic rights.