In 2006 the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican majority worked with Democrats to hold dozens of exhaustive hearings on whether to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). “There was a lot of invidious discrimination shown,” recalled then- House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin).
Ultimately, the House (with 33 nays) and a unanimous Senate voted to extend the nation’s most important civil rights legislation for another 25 years. After George W. Bush signed the reauthorization, the federal government’s power to keep the dark days of voter suppression from returning anytime soon seemed assured.
But then a black Democrat moved into the White House in 2009. All bets were off. Bush appointee John G. Roberts Jr., who had led Ronald Reagan’s efforts to curtail the VRA, was Chief Justice of the United States. In June 2013 Roberts carved the heart out of the landmark law with the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions,” he wrote for the majority.
Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg excoriated the ruling. She noted that removing federal voting protection “when it has worked and is continuing to work…is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”