The 2012 election saw a concerted effort by conservative-led and funded outside groups to try and suppress minority voter turnout. When called out by the left for such anti-democratic tactics, conservatives cried foul, insisting they were the victims of reverse-discrimination. As it turns out, that’s an argument not even the Supreme Court can buy.
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to lift 30-year-old restrictions on the Republican National Committee’s “ballot security” programs that the organization said were necessary to combat fraud. Those restrictions, put in place on the RNC via a consent decree, happened after the Democratic National Committee sued the RNC for enlisting off-duty sheriffs and police officers to patrol polling places in minority precincts in New Jersey during a 1981 gubernatorial election.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the blueprint of the modern-day voter intimidation campaign.
In 2008, the RNC tried unsuccessfully to get a federal judge to throw out the consent decree, arguing that it had become “antiquated and was being used increasingly as a political weapon.” Does that argument also sound familiar? It should also because it is, essentially, the same argument used to challenge the Voting Rights Act which is currently before the Roberts Court.
Does the fact that the Roberts Court refused to step in and reconsider the consent decree mean there’s hope the Voting Rights Act will survive review? Not likely. The challenge to the VRA is about the use of federal power to monitor state elections — a framing more friendly to the conservative wing of the court. The consent decree between the RNC and the DNC is just that — a contract between the political parties and not the kind of dispute the court would be eager to jump in on.
If anything, the fight should drive home just how much is at stake in the VRA challenge. Efforts to disenfranchise minority voters have been going on since those rights were first recognized. The tactics haven’t changed and, absent the protections of the VRA and the consent decree at issue in this case, the effects would be even worse than what we witnessed in the 2012 election.
Still, a win is a win, and by keeping the consent decree in place, the Supreme Court guaranteed that for now, the RNC can’t directly and immediately intimidate voters. Instead, they’ll just have to continue to rely on state affiliates and outside groups to do that for them.
Photo from DonkeyHotey via flickr.