Despite the protestations of Shelby County and other jurisdictions, mountains of evidence show that there is little doubt that Section 5 is still needed, including in Shelby County. If anything, preclearance requirements should probably be extended to more parts of the country. Every election reveals new and deviously crafted efforts at voter suppression, from voter-ID laws to intimidation and long lines at the polls that by coincidence seem to afflict minority precincts more than others. Republican legislators in various states continue to push laws that will clearly have a disproportionate impact on minority voters. Section 5's preclearance has been a powerful disincentive against discrimination in elections that, sadly, is still very present today. If the Supreme Court guts Section 5 -- as voting-rights advocates fear will happen, given the Court's conservative majority -- the nation will be jumping off a cliff into unknown territory.
But it would be a mistake to think that, though many Republicans want to see Section 5 struck down, they oppose other sections of the Voting Rights Act. Quite the contrary: The GOP has found the VRA to be a great ally. It turns out the act, as traditionally applied, has helped the party win a great number of legislative races. It also has become a potent obstacle to the Democrats retaking the U.S. House of Representatives.
Beginning in the civil-rights era in the 1960s, the Republican Party -- the party of Lincoln -- became the loudest opponent of race-based remedies to discrimination, whether in school admissions, hiring, or minority representation. The Democrats, once the party of segregation (some people forget that segregationists George Wallace and Strom Thurmond were elected governors of Alabama and South Carolina, respectively, as Democrats) did a dramatic about-face in the 1960s and became the party of civil rights. Acting under the legal strength and moral authority of the Voting Rights Act, the Democrats led the charge to draw so-called "majority-minority districts" -- ones packed so full of minority voters that they usually resulted in electing a minority representative, as intended. The number of minority representatives jumped exponentially from the 1960s through the 1980s, with the number of black House members increasing from five to 24 by 1989.
But just in time for the redistricting in 1990, some enterprising Republicans began noticing a rather curious fact: The drawing of majority-minority districts not only elected more minorities, it also had the effect of bleeding minority voters out of all the surrounding districts. Given that minority voters were the most reliably Democratic voters, that made all of the neighboring districts more Republican. The black, Latino, and Asian representatives mostly were replacing white Democrats, and the increase in minority representation was coming at the expense of electing fewer Democrats. The Democrats had been tripped up by a classic Catch-22, as had minority voters: Even as legislatures were becoming more diverse, they were ironically becoming less friendly to the agenda of racial minorities.