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Welcome to a Friday evening edition of Progress Report.
Tonight we’re talking all about the Supreme Court’s surprising decision to uphold what remains of the Voting Rights Act. We’ll explore:
Uh, how’d this happen?
What it means for the future of democracy.
How the decision could impact upcoming elections.
How it can improve the lives of millions of Americans
This week brought no shortage of policy and election news, so I’ll be touching on lots of other items in another edition of the newsletter later this weekend.
Well, that was surprising.
The Supreme Court on Thursday shocked the nation by doing the right thing, voting 5-4 to strike down Alabama’s racially gerrymandered Congressional map. The decision preserves Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits election discrimination on the basis of race, and was written by Chief Justice John Roberts just shy of a decade after he gutted much of the rest of the VRA in Shelby v. Holder under the pretense that “the country has changed.”
The past ten years have proven otherwise.
The court has shifted right since that decision, and its six conservative justices offered little reason to believe that it wouldn’t use Allen v. Milligan to further eviscerate the VRA. In early 2022, the court proactively intervened to ensure that Alabama could use its egregiously gerrymandered map in the midterm election, then it seemed to side with the state during oral arguments last fall. Legal reporters and court watchers have been relatively unanimous in their shock over the ultimate decision, but not a whole lot else.
It’d be naive to not be at least somewhat skeptical about how the hell this happened. Roberts has been working diligently to tear apart the Voting Rights Act since his days as a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, while Brett Kavanaugh, the other conservative in this unexpected majority, had voted last year to allow Alabama’s racist maps to be used in November’s election.
Some have suggested that Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh would have been happy to fully gut the VRA had Alabama Republicans not been so overt in their discriminatory intent and sloppy with their legal justifications, leaving the law vulnerable to future challenges. In the eyes of other experts, the decision was based on deference to Congress and not only preserves the existing ban on racial dilution but actually widens the scope of Section 2 of the VRA.
We do know at least two things critical things, though.
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