Why the Georgia voting debacle is on John Roberts' and Mitch McConnell's heads

Why the Georgia voting debacle is on John Roberts' and Mitch McConnell's heads
Image via Screengrab.

You can put the Georgia voting debacle right on the shoulders of two people: Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In communities of color, people waited for hours to vote. In a pandemic. With new machines, and fewer voting locations. Back in the day, when Georgia's election system was subject to preclearance under the Voting Rights Act, this wouldn't have happened.

But the Supreme Court under Roberts decided seven years ago that the country had had enough of voting rights. Roberts, who had spent his entire legal career fighting against the Voting Rights Act, wrote the opinion striking down Section 4 of the law, requiring jurisdictions with a long history of voting discrimination to submit any changes in voting procedures to the Justice Department. Roberts argued that "Things have changed dramatically" since the VRA was enacted in 1965. "Yet the Act has not eased Section 5's restrictions or narrowed the scope of Section 4's coverage formula along the way. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown even stronger." Republican states that had been subject to preclearance rushed to show the lie in his words, passing dozens of voter restrictions aimed precisely at people of color. Roberts also suggested that Congress could update the law to reflect our new glorious racially blind society. House Democrats have done so, but Moscow Mitch McConnell refuses to act.

In December 2019 the House passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act, 228-187. That bill established a new formula for preclearance, requiring any state that had at least 15 voting rights violations by localities in the past quarter of a century to get preclearance to make any changes in voting for the next decade. If it was the state itself responsible for the violations, it would take just 10 violations to be subject to preclearance. Georgia is among the 11 states that would be back under preclearance.

But Mitch McConnell called the legislation intended to make sure that everyone eligible got their vote a "power grab" by the House. "The only common motivation running through the whole proposal seems to be this—Democrats searching for ways to give Washington politicians more control over what Americans say about them and how they get people elected," he said in a Senate floor speech. In the intervening 187 days since the House passed the bill, McConnell has refused to bring it up.

"It's an attempt to rewrite the rules […] in order to benefit one over the other," he said. As if the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary he is building under Trump isn't precisely that: an effort to rig the game for permanent Republican rule. He—and Roberts—must be stopped.

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