On Tuesday night’s edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” host Rachel Maddow discussed the Supreme Court’s decision on the case of Shelby, Alabama v. Attorney General Eric Holder, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and the four other conservative judges on the court ruled that Section 4 of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional. That section of the Act could be reinstated by a disciplined and singleminded Congress, which, said Maddow, is the opposite of what we have today.
After discussing the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives is a place where men like Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) routinely assert ideas like the notion that greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are caused by “dinosaur flatulence,” Maddow said that after Tuesday’s historic ruling, voting rights are in these people’s hands.
“Who knows?” she said. Climate change “could be dinosaur farts. That’s basically Congress right now, in particular the Republicans who are in control of the half of congress that is the House.”
Maddow called the House of Representatives a “void, that place where hard decisions don’t just go to die, hard decisions to go to get laughed at there. That void is where the Supreme Court of the United States today threw voting rights,” she said, “in the most consequential blow against civil rights law in a generation.”
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure equal access to the polls for everyone in the U.S., regardless of race or ethnicity. Section 4 of the Act established criteria for states that had historically restricted the vote to whites, mainly the former states of the U.S. Confederacy in the Civil War. Section 5 stated that states who met the criteria must submit any and all changes in election law to the federal government before they could be ratified.
In the decision on Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Section 4 is unconstitutional because the U.S. has allegedly made so much progress in race relations as to render the criteria obsolete.
Without Section 4, Section 5 becomes largely unenforceable, defanging the historic Voting Rights Act and enabling states with a history of institutionalized racial prejudice to make changes to their voting laws unchecked.
The only means of repairing the Act would be for Congress to take up Section 4 and establish new criteria. In 2006, when the Voting Rights Act was renewed, it passed with virtually unanimous bipartisan support. The Congress the Act would go before today is highly dysfunctional, with control of the House of Representatives all but ceded over entirely to the far-right tea party wing of the Republican Party.
“The floodgates are open,” Maddow said. “Anything these states with a history of racial discrimination could not get away with before, because they were covered under the voting rights act, and the justice department blocked them, now they can go ahead. And they are. Day one, they’re already rushing forward and there’s nothing to stop them. Unless Congress fixes it. What are the odds of Congress fixing it? No, really. What are the odds?”
Watch the video, embedded below via MSNBC: