BY STRIKING down a key section of the Voting Rights Act Tuesday, five justices of the US Supreme Court dealt a setback to fair elections in states with a documented history of racial discrimination. And in undoing this key protection of individual voting rights, they relied on a selective reading of the facts.
The section in dispute required nine states, plus a sprinkling of other counties and communities, to seek prior approval from the US Department of Justice for any changes to their election laws or apportionment plans. These jurisdictions were chosen via a formula indicating a record of suppressing black or Hispanic voter turnout, even through ostensibly neutral devices such as literacy tests. Five Supreme Court justices voted to invalidate that formula, on the grounds that it is outdated. Black voter registration and turnout rates, the majority points out, now rival those of white voters throughout much of the Deep South.