Over the course of two days, SCOTUS has rendered controversial rulings on the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage. Two serious issues that inflame passions on both sides. Decisions which could echo through history. And the reaction to these extremely weighty cases has been...absolutely hilarious.
When section four of the Voting Rights Act was ruled unconstitutional, the reaction from the left was unsurprisingly indignant. Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC bemoaned her "loss of citizenship". Chris Hayes, also of MSNBC, was "physically enraged" by the act of "judicial activism. Apparently, the rights of minorities to vote has been completely obliterated. Well, not quite.
Section one of the voting rights act makes voter discrimination illegal. It's still illegal. Section five makes certain areas with a history of racism clear any changes in voting procedures with the federal government. Section four identified which states (as well as a few random counties and so forth) are subject to this. The original formula was to apply this scrutiny to any area that used a "test or device" (i.e. literacy test) and whether half of eligible citizens were voting, or at least registered. As of November 1st, 1964. This was updated in 1968 and 1972, but not since then. So under VRA as it was before the ruling, a state, county, or township that had a literacy test or not enough registered voters in 1972 had to clear any changes in voting policy with the feds. Even forty years later. The South has changed ever so slightly since then. Jim Crow is long gone.
Huffington Post's Howard Fineman snarkily noted that anyone who thought the South had improved significantly should spend some time there. Thus evincing that he hasn't spent any time here recently. Or that if he has, he's stayed within one of the few liberal bubbles in the South. A more sensible response came from liberal Fox News contributor Bob Beckel, who noted that there are still a few remote counties that have these problems. And he's right. That's why they're "remote". We make our racists live all the way back in the woods now. And if one of these jurisdictions did have voting irregularities, it's highly unlikely it would sway a vote. In most of these places, the voter turnout could be five people, and that would be an 83% turnout.
SCOTUS lacks the power to rewrite the law, only Congress does. So instead of leaving an obsolete law in place, they chunked it and forced Congress to finally update it. Not too unreasonable, if the last update to the formula was in 1972. 50 years ago, Congress passed a law that prevented inappropriate tests related to voting, and updated it in 1968 and 1972. And this was a great thing. Now these jurisdictions are subject to a test that is forty years out of date. But when SCOTUS threw out this inappropriate test, it was not a great thing. I guess inappropriate tests are only okay when they have pre-approval from MSNBC.
Fast forward one day, and the same people are singing the praises of the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act. And the reaction from the left is exactly the opposite. No cries of judicial activism here. Rachel Maddow spiked the football and said "This is now decided as a nation. The argument is won." Because apparently SCOTUS had spoken and SCOTUS is always right. Oh, wait.
Obviously, there's going to be (and already has been) push back from conservatives on this. (Personal opinion on DOMA: vast indifference, like most things). But according to the left it's now The Settled Law of the Land. Which is why these reactions are leaving me in stitches. "Settled law" is a contradiction in terms. All laws are subject to constant revision. To use another controversial example, abortion was legalized after Roe v. Wade. But recent advances in neo-natal care make third term babies far more viable. They used to be just fetuses with only a small chance to live, but now this viability suggests that they are living beings with rights in the third term. Thus, Roe v. Wade is not "settled". As time passes and society evolves, old rulings may become obsolete and thus may require updating for our current environment. This is also true for DOMA and the VRA.
That's why I roll on the floor when I hear spew like this from the punditocracy. Nothing is settled. Congress will (eventually, maybe) update the VRA. States will pass new laws regarding gay marriage. The law, even the Constitution, is a constant work in process. So a vote against VRA is not the end of the world and a vote against DOMA does not settle the argument. It just advances the argument. A little. The stupendous level of ignorance from the chattering class is what has my sides splitting. An argument is only settled when SCOTUS rules in their favor. How could this be funny? Well, I only laugh to keep from crying.