(Ben Sargent via GoComics.com)
Linda Greenhouse, in the NYTimes, on “A Supreme Court Misstep“:
… Late on a Friday night earlier this month, the Supreme Court voted in another case from Texas to permit the state’s voter ID law, the strictest in the country, to take effect. A federal district judge in Corpus Christi found after a nine-day trial that the law’s stringent requirements for particular forms of identification would prevent as many as 600,000 Texans, 4.5 percent of all those registered, from voting next month. The impact, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found, would fall disproportionately on black and Latino Texans. She ruled that the law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the section that remains functional after the Supreme Court cut the heart out of that law last year — and that it operated as an unconstitutional poll tax. Judge Ramos issued a permanent injunction to bar the state from applying the law.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — yes, the same court that brought us the Texas abortion clinic closings, before the Supreme Court granted a reprieve two weeks ago — gave Texas an immediate stay of the ruling, putting the voter ID law back into effect for next week’s election. The plaintiffs then asked the Supreme Court to lift the stay.
The six justices who let the stay remain in effect didn’t bother to explain themselves beyond the word “denied.” That left it to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and two others, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to explain in dissent what was wrong with that outcome. (Where was Justice Stephen G. Breyer? I have no idea.) The dissent was issued shortly after 5 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 18, the 81-year-old Justice Ginsburg having stayed up all night to finish it.
“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case,” Justice Ginsburg said, “is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.” A law, in other words, that in the full glare of publicity and on the verge of a highly polarized election, threatens destruction to the social fabric in the most dangerous way, by shutting thousands of citizens out of the democratic process of choosing their leaders.
“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court in April of this year. His subject then was the right to spend money in politics, not the right to vote. If people conclude that the current Supreme Court majority cares more about the first than the second — surely a logical inference — the court will have entered a dangerous place. And so — as a conservative justice once realized in another context — will the country.