AEI Scholar: Voting Rights Decision Good for Blacks

Thursday, 27 Jun 2013 01:14 PM

By Dan Weil

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The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to do away with a provision of the Voting Rights Act will benefit African-Americans, despite the protests of civil rights activists, says Abigail Thernstrom, an adjunct scholar at The American Enterprise Institute.

"The Supreme Court did itself proud," she writes in The Wall Street Journal.

The decision allows nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without first gaining federal approval.

Voter turnout statistics for last year's elections show that vote suppression wasn't an issue, says Thernstrom, vice-chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "In 2012, no state in the union had a total voter turnout rate, for whites or minorities, under 50 percent — a figure that was the heart of the old formula," she says.

"The turnout in … six states covered … [by the old provision] was well above the national average. Mississippi, once the worst of the Jim Crow states, had the highest total turnout rate in the nation."

Black America comes out a winner, Thernstrom says.

"Enforcement of the statute — including the imposition of 'safe' black (and Hispanic) legislative seats as a remedy for discrimination — has herded black voters into what even North Carolina Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Mel Watt once called 'racial ghettos,'" she writes.

"Rep. Watt was referring to race-based districts that have generally rewarded minority politicians who campaign (and win) by making the sort of overt racial appeals that are the staple of invidious identity politics."

The black candidates running in those districts didn't learn how to compete in majority-white environments, Thernstrom maintains. "They were thus thrust to the sidelines of American political life — which is precisely what the statute did not intend. In this sense the law became a brake on minority political aspirations."

The safe districts protected black candidates from white opponents when Southern whites refused to vote for black candidates, she says. "But times have changed, and whites now vote for black candidates at every level of government."

Political journalist and Newsmax contributor John Fund also sees the provision overturned by the court as outdated.

"This part of the Voting Rights Act covers states that had a bad voter registration record, a bad voter turnout record among minorities," he told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV. "They had to get Justice Department approval — even if they wanted to move a polling place by 20 feet, nothing to do with voting," Fund says.

"This became a completely ridiculous standard. Why in the world should we be frozen like a fly in amber and treated the same way after almost 50 years, and there's really no way to escape?"

But Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw the issue differently. In her dissenting opinion to the case, she said getting rid of the provision was " like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

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