[bumping to the top given the upcoming Tuesday argument in the Texas redistricting cases]
I have written this piece for TPM Cafe. It begins:
In a Supreme Court term already bursting with election cases, from two partisan gerrymandering disputes to a fight about the permissibility of Ohio’s voter purges to a lawsuit challenging bans on political clothing in Minnesota polling places, it’s easy to overlook yet another significant voting appeal the Court will hear later this month. In Abbott v. Perez, the Court will examine whether the state of Texas violated the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution when it drew congressional and state legislative district lines in ways that hurt Latino and African-American voters. The protracted and difficult litigation involves redistricting plans from way back in 2011 and shows how much was lost when the Supreme Court killed another key provision of the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case.
Abbott v. Perez could well preview what’s likely to come in the next few years. All three branches of government have pulled back on protecting voting rights, and the effects of that move are becoming clear. We may soon fulfill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vision of an emasculated Voting Rights Act and much weaker protections for minority voters by the federal courts.
And the Supreme Court is poised to make things worse. With rumors circulating that perennial swing Justice Anthony Kennedy could retire as soon as this term, the Court is likely to lurch to the right. As I argue in my new book, The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption, the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia took an even narrower view of Voting Rights than the Court as a whole, and now, after his death, Justice Scalia’s influence is only growing. If President Trump gets another appointment to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Kennedy, expect the next Justice (like new Justice Neil Gorsuch) to emulate Justice Scalia’s approach and weaken voting rights even further.
Justice Scalia openly expressed disdain for the Act, expressing the view at the Shelby County oral argument that Congress renewed the Act in 2006 by overwhelming majorities because of “a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.” He believed that Section 2 could well be an unconstitutional racial preference, and argued that, regardless, Section 2 should be read not to apply to redistricting matters at all.
The bottom line is that the Court’s mixed record on enforcing the Voting Rights Act could soon get worse if Trump gets another Court appointment. Minority voters, already at a disadvantage in many parts of the country because of enduring racism and the unwillingness of white voters to support minority candidates for office, could soon have tougher political battles ahead. And the scariest part is that, thanks in part to Justice Scalia’s influence, the courts may soon no longer be there as a backstop.