In the past week the Supreme Court worked at its best and worst. It struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, thereby making it a lot easier for states to legalize gay marriage – and making it easier for federal employers to extend benefits to same-sex couples. But the step forward was almost negated by the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
The part of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down was Section 4 – which makes it a lot easier for states to start adding various requirements and restrictions to curb voting. And in less than 48-hours, six states have already moved forward to put in place voter ID laws that have been, so far, rejected by the Department of Justice.
Now these states are part of the 9 that are preclearance – basically these states have to report any changes to their voter laws and the DOJ can block or stall the implementation of any of these laws. Historically these 9 states have discriminated against voters for their race, and section 4 of the Voting Rights Act sought to fix that.
The idea behind the striking down of section 4 is that we live in different times, and these restrictions, while necessary in 1965, are no longer applicable in 2013. And that’s a problem. In her dissent report, Justice Ginsberg pointed out – quite rightly – that it’s because of preclearance that voting rights haven’t been trampled on, and its the existence of that condition that ensures these rights are being protected.
The only point I’d concede in the argument is that it’s unfair to target the 9 states – I think preclearance and the now-defunct section 4 should apply to all states.
So, while I’m happy that DOMA was struck down, I cannot celebrate with the same joy as my fellow LGBTQIAs. And I would hope that the LGBTQIA community rallies behind those on the right side of history in promoting fairness in our voting process. Minorities, immigrants, the elderly, and students may be disenfranchised because of these laws – I hope the LGBTQIA community will take a break from its celebration and remember that while justice has been served, a great injustice has also been done. And as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”