How the Roberts Court Caused Georgia’s Election Mess
Chief Justice John Roberts made a bold declaration on the state of American race relations in 2013. “Our country has changed,” he concluded in his majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, “and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” With those words, he and the court’s conservative majority gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, seems to be on a one-man mission to prove Roberts wrong. The state purged more than 500,000 voters from the rolls under his watch in 2017, raising the likelihood that thousands of voters may be unable to cast a ballot when they show up to the polls next week.
But Kemp downplayed the implications of the court’s ruling. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t still have to follow the law or that we won’t get sued if we don’t follow the law,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It just shifts the burden from us having to prove to other groups having to prove [discrimination], and that’s huge for the taxpayers of Georgia.”
While it’s impossible to know how the Justice Department would handle individual preclearance cases today if the provision were still in force, the trajectory in Georgia is clearer, according to Danielle Lang, a staff attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, which has challenged multiple iterations of the exact-match policy in court. “I think it’s a very fair statement overall to say,” she told me, “that we would not see the level of disenfranchisement that we see today if preclearance were still in effect.”
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