In Shelby County v. Holder, the opponents of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Actargue that this provision acts as a bludgeon that crushes the ability of the covered jurisdictions to legislate freely concerning the electoral process. The premise of this argument is that the America – and especially the jurisdictions covered by Section 5 – has triumphed over the problem of race. The voter suppression that existed in 1965 no longer exists. An America that can elect an African-American president no longer needs to micromanage the election processes of certain states and localities on the basis of race. The opponents’ claim is that we live in a post-racial world, and a Congress that fails to recognize this has overstepped its constitutional role.
These two premises – that race is a relic of the past and that Congress has overreached its power to manage the electoral process – are false.
Yet it is appealing to believe that we as a country have triumphed over the problem of race. This narrative tempts all of us, liberals and conservatives, to move on to other problems and feel good about ourselves. For the political right, if race is no longer a problem, then the ridicule conservatives suffer because they are typecast as being “bad on race” is no longer valid. For the political left, the triumph over race represents the realization of the liberal vision of racial harmony. The end effect is that once we believe this view, we avoid race discussions and eschew race-conscious remedies despite the facts.