Margaret Carlson writes in Bloomberg today that she wishes the Supreme Court members who threw out the formula used in the Civil Rights could see the new movie The Butler. Why is that? Because she finds it powerful and moving and hopes that if those justices see the movie they will be emotionally swayed and thus realize the error of their ways. Carlson writes:
The justices need to focus on some of the movie’s vivid, and most stomach-turning, scenes. They will see respectable white citizens of my parents’ generation spitting at, pouring hot coffee on and beating up young blacks — and in particular the son of the butler of the title — as they try to do the simple things in life: have a Coke at a lunch counter, drink at a water fountain, go to school. Try to tell the children of those civil-rights pioneers that we’re so beyond discrimination that we no longer need the rules to ensure that states (mostly Southern ones) don’t put into effect latter-day versions of the literacy test.
This is a very sloppy argument. Carlson could easily have pointed to actual events along the lines of what she describes above, but instead she chooses to use The Butler to bolster her case since it’s the hook for her article. The problem is that The Butler is a work of fiction, particularly its most racist parts, as documented here and here.
Leaving that issue aside, Carlson’s column still doesn’t hold much water. She alleges that many of the acts aimed as verifying voter eligibility are designed to restrict voting rights. She dismisses, without a thought, the idea that states are passing voter identification laws in order to ensure that only those eligible to vote actually vote. (In Carlson’s view, there is no problem with voter fraud). As I have pointed out before, we require ID to get on a plane, enter a federal building, buy Sudafed, drive a car and enter a bar. Is it really beyond the pale to require some minimal amount of assurance that a person casting a vote is eligible to do so?
Carlson does provide two examples of voter ID laws that she finds egregious: Texas and North Carolina. In the Texas example, Carlson complains that a concealed-carry gun permit can serve as a form of ID but not a student’s ID. Clearly, she has not thought this through because, if she had, she would realize that having a gun permit count, but not a student ID, makes perfect sense. The gun permit is issued by the state, is a government form of ID and the requirements to obtain such and ID are under the control of the government. A student ID, however, is not a government-issued piece of identification, so why on earth should it be elevated to the same level as a gun permit? Most amusingly, Carlson links to another article on the Huffington Post about the Texas law (which highlights Democrats’ unhappiness with the measure) that mentions Texas included in the new law a way for voters to obtain FREE identification cards.
The overarching problem with Carlson’s narrative is that she is arguing the Supreme Court was wrong to invalidate a part of the Voting Rights Act, which itself is a violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The Voting Rights Act’s legitimacy rests on the assumption that a violation of federalism is permissible, for a period of time, to correct a violation of federal rights. If you buy that logic, and it is at least reasonable, then the Voting Rights Act cannot continue in perpetuity. It can only continue as long as there is evidence that the states subject to the Act are violating the federal rights of their citizens. The formula in place in 1965 did not reflect the realities of 2013. Moreover, the Supreme Court did not say that states were completely free of the Act, all it said was that if the federal government is going to violate federalism per its authority under the Act it must do so based upon current events, not events that happened 45 years ago. Carlson and those who want to keep the old formula implicitly, if not explicitly, state that the South today is every bit as institutionally racist at a governmental level as it was in 1965. That is an argument which cannot be sustained on facts, only appeals to emotion.