Wednesday, June 26, 2013
As most know by know, the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act yesterday in Shelby County v. Holder. That section's formula defines which states and jurisdictions must submit voting changes to the Department of Justice for preclearance. The preclearance process ensures that potentially discriminatory changes in voting laws are reviewed and revised before they go into effect. As a result of the Court's decision, there are no longer any jurisdictions subject to preclearance.
This is a big deal for many school districts. School board elections and racial equity go hand in hand. In fact, the effectiveness of school desegregation orders was often as much a product of school board elections as it was court orders. Likewise, current efforts at voluntary desegregation and diversity easily shift from one school board election cycle to the next, as seen so obviously during the last 6 years of elections in Raliegh, NC. The saving grace in so many of these instances was that changes in school board election procedures (poling places, single member districts v. at large districts, district boundaries) in covered jurisdictions (mostly the South) had to be cleared through DOJ. This outside check was instrumental in allowing African Americans and other minorities to get a fair shot at electing the school board, which meant fair representation on the board. That check is now gone. To be clear, citizens still have the right to sue under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but the burden of demonstrating a violation now falls on individual, whereas the burden of proving fairness once fell on the state and local jurisdictions. Only time will tell what this means for desegregation, diversity and voluntary integration in the South, but I know it makes a lot of people nervous.