The states of the Old Confederacy will return to the pre-1965 playbook, passing new voting restrictions that can only be challenged, after years of lengthy litigation, in often-hostile Southern courts, with the burden of proof on those subject to discrimination rather than those doing the discriminating. Conservatives will be emboldened to challenge the other parts of the Voting Rights Act, like Section 2, that apply nationwide. Our democracy will become more unequal, with the most powerful interests manipulating the electoral rules to preserve their own power.
The only hope is that the ruling will serve as a rallying cry for Congress to add new voter protections and for citizens to rally to the polls to protect their most basic rights. This happened in 2012, when a backlash against voter suppression attempts resulted in black voter turnout surpassing white turnout for the first time in history. The “coalition of the ascendant” of young and minority voters that propelled Barack Obama to the White House must now mobilize in unprecedented numbers. The voting rights movement that was reborn in 2012 must expand in order to fight the Supreme Court’s decision and to address the wide scope of voting discrimination that sadly still exists in 21st century America.
Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in October 2010 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. He is now working on a history of voting rights since 1965.