WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court just declared that the Civil War is no longer relevant to the history and administration of racial justice in America.
In a sense, the court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder validated a generations-long effort -- first by Democrats and later by Ronald Reagan and the Bush family -- to throw off the moral weight that slavery and the Civil War had placed on the South.
“The court is essential saying that the South is no longer the South, the North is no longer the North, and the whole country has to consider how to go forward,” Yale Law School professor Heather Gerkin told The Huffington Post.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and amendments that followed through 2006, held that the states of the Old South, and a few other jurisdictions that had practiced official or “de jure” segregation, should be specifically and deeply scrutinized every time they tried to change their voting laws. The requirement for “preclearance” was based on voting and turnout patterns that, in turn, had their roots in segregation, Jim Crow and the practices that the South devised to disenfranchise blacks after the Civil War.
The court said Tuesday that that history and those formulas are no longer relevant -- or at least not relevant enough to make sense in the multiracial America of today.
“They are saying that the idea of preclearance is still valid,” George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton told The Huffington Post. “But they are saying that the way we go about it no longer applies.”
The effect of the ruling is to throw back to Congress the entire issue of deciding which jurisdictions' registration and voting procedures should require special scrutiny. “They are leaving it up to Congress,” said Overton.
But Overton and others doubt whether Congress will have the will and the wherewithal -- let alone the commitment to racial justice in this confusing new era -- to come up with a new formula.
“I think the chances of that are slim,” said Gerken.
Which means that the era of preclearance, which beat back at least a thousand discriminatory schemes over the years, may well be at an end. Complaints about voter discrimination will have to be filed in court -- after the fact and after the beneficiaries are already incumbents.