The failure of Provision 4 in the Voting Rights Act was a harrowing reminder of the inequalities that still exist in America, the lingering discrimination that won’t be erased with one or twenty black presidents. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the part of the act requiring federal oversight of voting in states with a history of racial discrimination in voting, ones where long lines and roadblocks discouraged minority voting. Just days after the provision was upended, “substantial” redistricting in Texas was done to predominantly black districts to cut off “representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases.”
However, Texas isn’t alone, as Mississippi and North Carolina “also plan to pass strict voter ID laws.” The key word here is “history,” and in her dissenting opinion, Ginsberg threw legendary SCOTUS shade at her colleagues that voted against the provision, citing its continuing importance in American democracy through promoting a system where everyone has a voice.
Ever the sharpest tool, Justice Ginsberg wrote,
“Between 1982 and 2006, DOJ objections blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory…The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that he Voting Rights Act’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed…with this belief and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”
In response, Slate published a sobering look of America’s culture of racial discrimination in voting by collecting literacy tests from Louisiana in the 1960s, which are archived through the Civil Rights Movement Veterans. Designed specifically for black voters, the tests quizzed potential voters on their ability to fill out the ballot correctly, but the questions are so befuddling it makes them almost impossible to decipher, let alone actually answer. (Remember: you can’t get any wrong to pass.)
As Slate‘s Rebecca Onion argues, that was the point, as the test will “prove” that the taker is illiterate and unfit for democracy. Had white voters had to take it, most also would have also failed with flying colors.
However, it only affected the black voters who were subjected to it. This is the culture that we are fighting, a history of discrimination that is still very much a reality today. As Ginsberg said, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
You can take the quiz below, which we can only hope doesn’t make a comeback. How dry do you feel? I tried and had to stop because it made my brain cry. I’m all wet.