I have written this Jurisprudence essay for Slate. It begins:
On the Friday before Christmas Day, the Department of Justice formally objected to a new South Carolina law requiring voters to produce an approved form of photo ID in order to vote. That move already has drawn cheers from the left and jeers from the right. The DoJ said South Carolina could not show that its new law would not have an adverse impact on racial minorities, who are less likely to have acceptable forms of identification.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the DoJ decision blocking the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.” The state’s attorney general vowed to fight the DoJ move in court, and thanks to an odd quirk in the law, the issue could get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which could well use it to strike down the Voting Rights Act provision as unconstitutional before the 2012 elections.
Why did the Obama DoJ deny preclearance, knowing it could well set up this massive confrontation and potentially lead to the downfall of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act? There are both principled and political reasons. First of all, it was the right thing to do. As the DoJ letter explains, South Carolina presented no evidence that its law was necessary to prevent voter fraud, and the evidence was uncontested that minority voters were less likely to have ID Second, if the Court is going to strike down Section 5, it might be politically better for this to happen before the 2012 elections, so that Obama can run against a Supreme Court, and the possibility that a President Romney could appoint a young version of Justice Scalia to take a retiring Justice Kennedy’s seat on the court, solidifying the court’s conservative majority for a generation.
It’s a gamble, both legally and politically, and no one knows for sure how it will turn out. But South Carolina may fare much better before the Roberts court this spring than it did before the Warren court in 1966.