A supporter of the North Carolina NAACP holds stickers protesting the passage of new voter identification legislation. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
When the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder last November, severely limiting the sweep of the Voting Rights Act in Southern states with a history of racial discrimination, here’s what you heard from all the reasonable folks: soon, very soon, Congress would draft legislation restoring said sweep, in ways that honored the new guidelines written into the new Supreme Court decision. They would surely do so in rare bipartisan fashion. After all, the last time the VRA was renewed was for a twenty-five-year extension signed by President Bush in 2006, passed in the House by a vote of 390-33, with the Senate passing the House bill unanimously and without amendment. The “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006” had been introduced by James Sensenbrenner, one of the most conservative of House veterans. Which means Republicans, and conservatives, must like the Voting Rights Act—Remember that whole “nothing to fear” rap?
Well, that redrafting hasn’t happened yet. Instead, it’s been what Josh Marshall has called “Open Season On Non-White Voting.” Said the AP, “Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.” Polling restrictions began passing Republican-controlled legislatures with breakneck speed, like mighty waters once held back by now-crumbling dams. Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina passed strict voter ID laws. North Carolina passed not just a voter ID law but redrew its political maps and reduced early voting. Georgia redrew its county commission districts to dilute minority power.
But what about that 98-0 Senate tally, and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King and moonbeams and unicorns and sunshine in 2006? Were conservatives crossing their fingers when they cast that vote?
Look. Conservatives are time-biders. And they understand, as Corey Robin explains in his indispensable book The Reactionary Mind, that the direction of human history is not on their side—that is why they are reactionaries—because, other things equal, civilization does tend towards more inclusion, more emancipation, more liberalism. They could not survive as a political tendency unless they clothed reaction in liberal raiment. You’ve seen that happen over and over again—like when people like Grover Norquist, whose aim is to roll back the entire welfare state, including Social Security, says what he’s really trying to do is save Social Security.