ATLANTA — Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.
After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot.
North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please.
And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 opinion that struck down as outdated a key provision of the landmark 1965 law credited with ensuring ballot access to millions of black Americans, American Indians and other minorities. Roberts’ opinion gives Congress an opportunity to retool the law’s so-called preclearance sections that give the U.S. Justice Department veto power over local elections.
But the prospects of a quick fix seem uncertain, at best, given stark ideological divides on Capitol Hill on a host of matters.
Southern Republicans largely hailed Roberts’ opinion as recognition of racial progress since President Lyndon Johnson signed the law at the apex of the civil rights movement.
“Over the last half-century, Georgia has reformed, and our state is a proud symbol of progress,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “Today’s decision guarantees that Georgia will be treated like every other state — a right we have earned.”
In neighboring Alabama, where the case originated, Gov. Robert Bentley said, “We have long lived up to what happened” in the Jim Crow era, “and we have made sure it’s not going to happen again.”
Democrats and civil rights attorneys lambasted the ruling as a setback for the very advancement Republicans highlighted, and the dissenters predicted a proliferation of laws designed to curtail minority participation in elections.
Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights activist who was beaten as he advocated for voting rights in the 1960s, called the ruling a “dagger.”
President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” in the court overturning “well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair.”
Within hours of Tuesday’s decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared on Twitter,
“(U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder can no longer deny VoterID in Texas.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety announced later in the day that today it would begin distributing photo IDs under a 2011 law that Holder’s lawyers had blocked under Section 5.
In Mississippi, the secretary of state said her office would begin enforcing a pending voter ID law for primaries in June 2014. North Carolina Republicans said they plan swift action on a pending voter ID bill.