It’s Not 1965 and “Our Country Has Changed”

It’s Not 1965 and “Our Country Has Changed”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court threw out one of the main thrusts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 5, which requires states and jurisdictions with historically discriminatory voting practices to obtain federal approval when changing their voting laws. The law had applied to nine states- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi South Carolina, Texas and Virginia- and multiple counties across the nation including areas like Manhattan in New York. The decision was 5-4 with the majority, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, stating, “Our country has changed”.

However, the minority felt quite differently with Justice Ginsberg stating that Martin Luther King’s legacy had been “disserved” by the decision. (and of course, our President was “deeply disappointed”). Those are pretty loaded words- did this decision really represent us regressing all the way to the 1960s!? In actuality, all the decision showed was that in is in fact NOT 1965. It basically realizes that racism in voting is no longer an extraordinary problem in need of the extraordinary measures of Section 5. Significantly, the decision also serves to signal that race-based affirmative action is on its way out. This decision acknowledges that we are making progress and that there is no need for crude racial categories anymore. The federal government shouldn’t be encroaching on these local rights when there is simply no compelling reason to do so.

First of all, how much does this decision really change? Honestly, not much. In recent years, the federal government has found less and less state voting laws to reject. In fact, between 1995-2004, they rejected less than .01 percent of them, according to an internal study. Furthermore, there is another section of the law- Section 2– that allows for these laws to be rejected but by federal lawsuit. Section 5 is just easier and faster (but since when has speed and convenience been valued by our federal government?) not to mention, Section 5 applies to districts determined in 1965. That means we are holding states to data that was determined in 1965. Why in the world would we do that? Have we really not changed since 1965?

So, although this decision doesn’t largely impact the way the system works (and probably has fallen off the radar compared to the DOMA decision), this decision is hopeful. Liberals will continually play the race card. They will continue to claim that people should be categorized according to their race and given certain things because of those categories (what Scalia called “racial entitlement”). But the truth is, it is not 1965 and both this provision in the Voting Rights Act and race-based affirmative action are being replaced and becoming unnecessary. Both things were right for their time, they ensured protection for the rights of minorities as well as their representation. However, the now just don’t make sense.

Affirmative action did a world of good when it resulted from the civil rights movement- because it was truly needed. I’m not saying racism is gone today however; the nature of the need is vastly different than it was at the time of the civil rights movement (wait, isn’t that a good thing?). For starters, our country is far more diverse with less distinct racial categories. Traditional affirmative action for example discriminated heavily against the Asian-American population. Thomas Espenshade of Princeton found that, in 1997 an Asian-American applicant to University had to outscore an African-American applicant by 450 points on the SAT to achieve an equal chance of acceptance. That does not seem fair and should show us that the affirmative action policy that simplifies racial categories does not work. Furthermore, race is no longer a determiner of need. Sewan Reardon at Stanford has found that where the black-white test score gap used to be significant- almost twice as large as the rich-poor gap- now the income gap is twice has large as the race gap. So, our need has changed. Inequality in socio-economic status is more crippling than inequality due to race.

So, I strongly disagree with Justice Ginsberg’s claim that we somehow shamed MLK with this decision. I actually think if Martin Luther King could hear this decision, he would be pleased that we have so far advanced from the civil rights movement, that race was no longer the determining factor of discrimination. He would be pleased that the federal government no longer has the need or power to intervene in states ability to change their voting laws because they simply aren’t making racially discriminatory laws. And he would be especially pleased that there is no longer a need to shove African-American into a category on the assumption that they are disadvantaged for college admissions. In summary, he would realize that American has made prominent strides and is getting closer to not having to judge its citizens by the color of their skin- but by the content of their character.

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