Did the Supreme Court Hand Democrats a Wedge in 2014 With Its Voting Rights Decision?

By now, you know about this morning's Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act by rendering unenforceable the provision that requires certain jurisdictions to pre-clear their changes to election laws with the federal Department of Justice given their history of discrimination. Without a doubt, the decision along the Court's ideological lines is partisan, bad for democracy, and will increase GOP enthusiasm to enact archaic voting restrictions.

But the Supreme Court did not render the concept of preclearance itself unconstitutional. The Court's majority opinion said that Congress is using a formula too old to decide which areas are to be subjected to that preclearance (never mind all that conservative bullshit about how the Court shouldn't be legislating). This is something the Congress can remedy - and that is where I find a significant political advantage for Democrats - if we get this right. Will the Republicans cooperate on a new formula? I doubt it, but the president wasted no time in pressing the case.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today,” Obama said in a statement. “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”[...]

“I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls,” Obama said.
Republicans are jubilant over the decision but noncommittal to changing the formula to pass muster with the court. If they do not cooperate, however, 2014 for them might just turn out to be a repeat of 2012.

Recall that in 2012, Republicans everywhere tried to silence minority voters - everywhere, not just areas covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And in most places where Section 5 didn't apply, those laws were challenged and blocked in federal courts. Pennsylvania comes to mind. But the Republicans tried their best to intimidate anyway, hoping that minority voters would get the wrong impression and stay home. Minorities and Democrats were, as a result, more prone to experiencing long lines and voting problems.


And yet, minorities voted in unprecedented numbers, and favored Democrats and the President by unprecedented margins. 71% of Hispanics voted for President Obama, which spent Republicans scurrying into immigration reform for the fear of losing both of the two largest minorities in America (Hispanics and African Americans). As Rick Unger put it in his post-election piece in Forbes,
Despite efforts in 33 GOP controlled states to restrict the vote, exit polls reveal that the minority share of the 2012 electorate increased from 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Voting among the African-American community remained steady at 13 percent of the total electorate.
Unger quotes an elderly gentleman who came out to vote for Obama despite his ill health, because of the reprehensible Republican efforts to suppress the vote. Unger isn't alone in his analysis that the GOP's voter suppression efforts backfired on the party in 2012. CNN's Roland Martin said as much, and a Pew survey found that Black voters outperformed their share of the electorate in 2012 as they did in 2008.

That same Pew survey also found that while African American turnout (65%) nearly matched white turnout (66%), turnout among Hispanic and Asian voters - even as those groups voted for the president - lagged behind (50 and 47 percent, respectively). That was all that it took to trounce Mr. Romney in the electoral college despite the President getting less than 40% of the White vote - imagine what would happen if Hispanic and Asian turnouts began to approach white turnout levels. Forget the presidency; Republicans would probably never see more than 42 seats in the Senate again. This is what is making establishment Republicans get into a civil war with the wingbats in their party over immigration reform.

Why am I telling you all this? Because if my understanding is correct that Republican voter suppression efforts backfired and as a result increased minority voter turnout, then that's an important precursor for 2014. Just as with immigration reform, Republicans may face a catch 22 if Democrats play their hands right with respect to today's Supreme Court decision. They can be given two options:

First option, do the right thing. Work with Democrats to come up with a formula that will pass muster at the Supreme Court. Come up with a new formula that will probably still subject their strongholds to greater federal oversight - but for that matter, I wouldn't mind if Congress made every state get preclearance from the Justice Department to change their election laws. If they do this by formula though - and any fair formulation will undoubtedly focus on the need for oversight in predominantly white, Republican dominated areas - their crazy base will come after them, but we will have won an important policy victory.

If they do not cooperate, that brings us to the second option. Democrats need to orchestrate a campaign focused on exposing the Republicans for their voter suppression efforts, and tie it to why they won't cooperate with Democrats to build a new, updated formula to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Make it clear that the Republicans don't want the Voting Rights Act enforced because they want to suppress minority votes. Couple it with stepped up voter registration efforts, and educating voters about their rights at the polls. Keep challenging voter ID laws in federal court. If the Republicans won't cooperate, we will need to make sure that voters know who want to take away their vote, and then bring them out to vote.

The Supreme Court has given us a piss poor Constitutional decision. But ultimately, demography is destiny. The Supreme Court has handed to the Republicans a double-edged sword and to the Democrats an opportunity to cement the feelings most minority voters already correctly have - that our right to vote is under attack by the Republican party - national, state and local. If Republicans play further into that impression - as they already seem poised to - they will lose more support. Played right, this issue can be as potent as immigration reform and lay the foundation for Democratic governance for at least a generation.

Voting rights should not be a wedge issue. That it may be one reflects on how far right the Republican party has gone to alienate and suppress the non-white voter. But if we have to use it as a wedge to beat back their attempts to suppress our votes, then so be it. Let's put the fear of everything holy in them so they think twice before coming after our votes again.