It seems unclear whether, in the final few days of the 2016 presidential campaign, there’s anyone left who hasn’t yet made up their mind. Indeed, by the Friday before the election, an estimated 30 million people will have already voted. But in case anyone needed one last reason they should make the effort to get to the polls on Tuesday, here it is: Since the Supreme Court ruled critical portions of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional in 2013, southern states have closed 868 polling locations, a 16 percent reduction. Considering that the composition of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance of this election, it’s never been more urgent to exercise your right to vote in order to protect it.
The study, published by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, tracked states and counties that were previously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with a history of voter disenfranchisement to get approval from the attorney general whenever they made any changes to their electoral procedures. But in the case Shelby County v. Holder, the court found that the law was outdated, and no longer addressed the problems it was designed to ameliorate. In a stunning concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went so far as to say that the flagrant discrimination the VRA was intended to fix was no longer evident.
Immediately in the wake of the Shelby decision, several state legislatures that were controlled by Republicans moved to enact laws that would have likely been rejected by the Justice Department previously, namely to restrict early voting and require government identification in order to vote. In July, a three-judge panel struck down the draconian voter laws passed by the North Carolina legislature right after Shelby, explicitly calling out the laws as racist.
“The State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race,” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz. “Specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.”
African-Americans having “too much access to the franchise” is a concept that should have been on its way out in the 1960s, not one that we should still be fighting in the 20-teens. But when Donald Trump talks about “Making America Great Again,” the racist undertones are undeniable. If Trump’s allowed to nominate, as he’s promised, a justice like Antonin Scalia — who suggested in oral arguments just months before his death that some African-American students would be better off at “less advanced” schools — we can see our long fight for civil rights continue to get longer.
And that’s just on the civil rights front. In an era with legislative gridlock, much of the expansion of rights in recent years has been through (or obstructed by) the Supreme Court. It’s not the way our system is supposed to work, but until Congress starts legislating again, an open-minded, progressive Supreme Court is the inarguable reason to make sure you cast your ballot on Tuesday.