This week, Justice Scalia (who can always be counted on to be the most retrograde, painfully ignorant judge on the bench) questioned whether the Voting Rights Act was still necessary. He basically inferred that it unfairly punished the Southern states for their racist past, and also called it an entitlement for minorities.
He seemed to be phrasing it as a question of whether or not minorities still need to be helped, which is ridiculous. All of that is unquestionably wrong, but Bill Maher actually did raise a good point on Real Time.
He asked if the Voting Rights Act actually helps minorities. Yes, it gerrymandered some districts that allowed a few dozen African-American districts to be created, but it also allowed for other, far more widespread gerrymandering that allowed for even more lilly white districts to be created as well. [It’s the same reason Keith Ellison’s district in Minneapolis is right beside Michelle Bachmann’s district, which has been gerrymandered so badly that it’s almost impossible for a Democrat challenger to beat her.]
In fact, the only way for Republicans to hang onto the House of Representatives is through this gerrymandering. Democrats actually received a million more votes for their house of representative seats, but Republicans still hold a clear majority in that body of congress. All of which is just set-up for the real question: So, does the Voting Rights Act actually help minorities maintain representation in congress?
And the answer is: absolutely. For one thing, it helped strike down some of those prejudicial voter-ID laws that would have unfairly impacted minorities (it directly helped defeat these laws in Texas and South Carolina).
For another, it’s really hard to argue that minorities would have more representation in the house without minority districts because the Senate (which, by definition, can’t be gerrymandered) has only had a handful of black senators in the last forty years and one of them was only recently appointed——–not elected——–by the black governor of Massachusetts since John Kerry was promoted to Secretary of State. [Another, Barack Obama, won his election against a black opponent, Alan Keyes.]
The southern senate districts of Mississippi and Alabama are majority black but haven’t had a black senator since reconstruction. And it’s hard to point to that evidence (or all the recent attempts at voter disenfranchisement) as proof that the Voting Rights Act is either no longer necessary nor doing more good than harm.