When Wednesday John Roberts and the solicitor general questioned whether any southern concentration of racism was a rationale for Voting Rights Act Section 5’s constitutionality, cynics responded as though the chief justice was blind to a vicious national legacy. One American Prospect article — leaning on a 2005 analysis that concluded the U.S. South was especially racist — was redistributed through Twitter at least 300 times over a day.
The American Journal of Political Science analysis, aforementioned, “Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South [PDF],” concluded “the regional gap in racial conservatism has not closed since [the end of the Civil Rights era.]”
The exchange between the justice and administration lawyer was in the context of a Supreme Court challenge to the decades-old Voting Rights Act, by Alabama’s Shelby County — a challenge on whether mostly southern states, due to Section 5’s “preclearance requirements,” should have to run voting-law changes by authorities in Washington.
Here were words of the two:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: General, is it — is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?
GENERAL VERRILLI: It is not, and I do not
know the answer to that, Your Honor, but I do think it was reasonable for Congress —
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, once you said it is not, and you don’t know the answer to it.
GENERAL VERRILLI: I — it’s not our submission. As an objective matter, I don’t know the answer to that question. But what I do know is that Congress had before it evidence that there was a continuing need based on Section 5 objections, based on the purpose-based character of those objections, based on the disparate Section 2 rate, based on the persistence of polarized voting, and based on a gigantic wealth of jurisdiction-specific and anecdotal evidence, that there was a continuing need.
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