The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a vital provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed for federal oversight of certain southern voting districts in the U.S., represents a daunting discrepancy between the Court’s interpretation of ideal constitutional principles and the non-ideal history of racial inequality in the American South.
The 5-4 vote, which reneges federal oversight of nine southern states with a historical penchant to racially discriminate against minority voters, is at odds with the Obama administration’s social policy and a unanimous U.S. Senate vote of 98-0, which extended the legal provisions for an additional 25 years in 2006. Though the usually polarizing issue of race plays a predominant role in this decision, sound arguments can be made for the majority and dissenting court opinions alike.
In regards to poll barriers and accessibility, voter registration gaps between black and white voters have all but closed, with states such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia showing exponential increases in black voter registration. While in 1965 the registration gap between black and white voters was in excess of 30 percent, the gap had been reduced to below a fraction of 1 percent in 2004, and in some instances, black voter registration even surpassed white voter registration over the same time period.
Census bureau data from 2004 also indicated that African-American voter turnout surpassed that of white voter turnout in five of the six states originally covered by the provision.
But this pragmatic, quantitative approach to voter registration does not predicate itself around the idea that racial inequality in the South has largely been extinguished.
Segregation has embossed itself in the southern psyche and is often portrayed in the occurrences of everyday life, such as the recently integrated prom in Wilcox County, Georgia or the Jena Six incident in Louisiana.
More so, this incongruity is evidenced by the widening wealth gap between black and white households, which is indicated by Pew Social Trend research that illustrated net household worth of black and white households fell by 53 and 16 percent respectively between 2005 and 2009.
These social dysfunctions, compounded with growing wealth disparities, are not to be taken lightly and serve as strong indicators that while southern states have outwardly tamed their once rampant, prejudicial tendencies by reluctantly conforming to federal oversight, inequalities that could contribute to voter discrimination
continue to exist.