Did Conservatives Foil Their Own Plan To Gut Voting Rights?

The irony of the U.S. Supreme Court accepting a challenge to the necessity for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act two days after an election characterized by blatant voter suppression efforts aimed at minorities has been widely noted.

But the New York Times‘ Linda Greenhouse thinks the coincidence could actually affect the court’s ruling on Section 5:

Given the open cynicism of the Republican-driven efforts at vote suppression this year, and the withering scrutiny of federal judges across the ideological spectrum, the question coming out of the 2012 election season is whether the optics of the voting rights issue have changed sufficiently to bring the Roberts court back from the brink to which it was surely headed. When the subject of voting rights felt like yesterday’s news, a quaint page from a fading history, using the Shelby County case to eviscerate Section 5 looked easy. With voting rights the stuff of today’s headlines, I’m no longer so sure.

It’s hard to say. As Greenhouse notes, it was the Chief Justice who cited the empirical record of the South’s good behavior in recent years in a 2009 decision that essentially put Congress on notice that it needed to modify the VRA to reduce its scope. And the opinion in that case was written by the only other Justice you’d figure was a “swing vote” on this topic, Justice Kennedy. So there’s a lot militating against any last-minute reconsideration of what has looked like an almost certain path to invalidation of Section 5. But you do have to wonder if conservatives realize they have damaged their own case for the anachronistic nature of voting rights protections.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.