An Astonishing Graph of the Voting Rights Act's Influence—in Justice Roberts' Own Opinion

Ironically, the table supports the chief justice's argument for why the law is outdated.

This morning, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the VRA had played a key role in breaking down barriers preventing minorities from voting. But the court struck down Section 4 of the law, which includes a formula that determines which states and cities with a history of voting discrimination deserve additional scrutiny when changing their voting laws.

Buried deep in Roberts' opinion, on page 15, is this remarkable chart comparing voter registration numbers from 1965 to 2004. The influence of the VRA in increasing black registration percentages appears extraordinary and undeniable.

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.56.18 AM.png

From Roberts, himself:

Census Bureau data from the most recent election indicate that African-American voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by [Section 5] with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent ...

In the first decade after enactment of [Section 5] the Attorney General objected to 14.2 percent of proposed voting changes. In the last decade before reenactment, the Attorney General objected to a mere 0.16 percent. There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.

Roberts argued that it was precisely this significant progress in eliminating barriers that helped to persuade him that the law was outdated. "The Act has not eased the restrictions [or] narrowed the scope of the coverage formula along the way," he wrote. "Those extraordinary and unprecedented features were reauthorized -- as if nothing had changed." Liberals immediately objected to the ruling, calling it an act of hubris that pretends racism is a thing of the past.

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

Just In