Curbing Voting Rights Laws Could Stunt Black Political Representation

Lax legislation could slow the growing numbers of black elected officials in Southern states, according to a new study.

Supporters of the Voting Rights Act gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on June 25, 2013. The court temporarily struck down the law's "preclearance" requirement, which would be reinstated if the Voting Rights Amendment Act passes.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Oct. 8, 2013, 4 a.m.

“Our coun­try has changed,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the June Su­preme Court de­cision to strike down part of the Vot­ing Rights Act, which re­quired states with a his­tory of ra­cial dis­crim­in­a­tion to get fed­er­al ap­prov­al be­fore chan­ging their elec­tion laws.

Roberts was right. The civil-rights le­gis­la­tion not only re­moved some bar­ri­ers to vot­ing that minor­ity groups in those states faced in 1965, it also boos­ted the num­ber of minor­ity can­did­ates for elec­ted of­fice there as well. But that ra­cial pro­gress, ac­cord­ing to a new study, is now threatened be­cause the land­mark law is gone.

Between 1981 and 2006, the city coun­cils that made the biggest gains in black rep­res­ent­a­tion were loc­ated in the nine states covered by Sec­tion 4 of the Vot­ing Rights Act. The num­ber of cit­ies in the des­ig­nated states with at least one black city-coun­cil mem­ber rose by 82 per­cent, from 552 to 1,004 cit­ies, ac­cord­ing to a study to be pub­lished in The Journ­al of Polit­ics this month. The num­ber of cit­ies not covered by the le­gis­la­tion that had at least one Afric­an-Amer­ic­an city-coun­cil mem­ber in­creased just 3.3 per­cent, from 732 to 756 cit­ies.

This sum­mer’s Su­preme Court de­cision, the au­thors write, could harm black par­ti­cip­a­tion and rep­res­ent­a­tion in the mostly South­ern states once covered by the Vot­ing Rights Act. It may even, over time, lead to a re­versal of a two-dec­ade trend.

“It is im­port­ant to un­der­stand the con­sequences of the dis­crim­in­at­ory prac­tices of the pre-civil-rights era,” said study coau­thor Melissa Marschall, a polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or at Rice. “Blacks not only en­countered a num­ber of vote-di­lu­tion prac­tices (in­clud­ing bar­ri­ers to re­gis­tra­tion) and out­right voter in­tim­id­a­tion, but they also faced sig­ni­fic­ant eco­nom­ic bar­ri­ers that lim­ited their so­cioeco­nom­ic ad­vance­ment. The VRA was de­signed to dis­mantle obstacles that dis­cour­aged black polit­ic­al par­ti­cip­a­tion.”

The study used data col­lec­ted by the Joint Cen­ter for Polit­ic­al and Eco­nom­ic Stud­ies and the In­ter­na­tion­al City County Man­ager As­so­ci­ation.

What We're Following See More »
WEST WING REDUX
Allison Janney Takes to the Real White House Podium
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Carolyn Kaster/AP

STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
12 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
16 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
×