If you believe Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.’s more overheated liberal critics, last week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating a portion of the Voting Rights Act is designed to make sure African-American turnout never hits these highs again. The ruling will allow a number of (mostly Southern) states to change voting laws without the Justice Department’s pre-approval, which has liberals predicting a wave of Republican-led efforts to “suppress” minority votes — through voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting and other measures.I think there's an inherent tension between suggesting in one paragraph that an argument is a ridiculous slippery slope theory advanced by "overheated liberal critics", then in the next to say that the predictions of those "overheated liberal critics... probably overstate" the impact of the ruling. At first blush it would seem either that a characterization of the critics as "overheated liberal[s]" is unfair or that the risk of vote suppression is dramatically overstated by the suggestion that it "probably" won't occur - is it truly a coin toss? Perhaps Douthat means to suggest that although only "overheated liberal[s]" are concerned, a much larger population of liberals and conservatives underestimate the possibility that they're correct? I suspect it's poor editing.
These predictions probably overstate the ruling’s direct impact on state election rules, which can still be challenged under other provisions of the Voting Rights Act and other state and federal laws. But it is possible that the decision will boost the existing Republican enthusiasm for voter ID laws, and hasten the ongoing, multistate push for their adoption.
The "gift" Douthat perceives is that Republicans will continue their effort to disenfranchise African American voters:
A 2 percent dip is still enough to influence a close election. But voter ID laws don’t take effect in a vacuum: as they’re debated, passed and contested in court, they shape voter preferences and influence voter enthusiasm in ways that might well outstrip their direct influence on turnout. They inspire registration drives and education efforts; they help activists fund-raise and organize; they raise the specter of past injustices; they reinforce a narrative that their architects are indifferent or hostile to minorities.Oddly, despite having noted that tjhe "effects [of voter ID laws] are relatively limited" and that the resulting "reduction [in voting] crosses racial lines, rather than affecting African-Americans exclusively", Douthat seems unconcerned by those efforts on voters. His concern seems to be only that his party of preference may suffer for its actions. Douthat shares some numbers:
This, I suspect, is part of the story of why African-American turnout didn’t fall off as expected between 2008 and 2012. By trying to restrict the franchise on the margins, Republican state legislators handed Democrats a powerful tool for mobilization and persuasion, and motivated voters who might otherwise have lost some of their enthusiasm after the euphoria of “Yes We Can” gave way to the reality of a stagnant, high-unemployment economy.
As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics has pointed out, for all the talk about how important Hispanics are to the conservative future, the Republican Party could substantially close the gap with Democrats in presidential elections if its post-Obama share of the African-American vote merely climbed back above 10 percent — a feat achieved by Bob Dole and both Bushes. If that share climbed higher still, the Democratic majority would be in danger of collapse.First, an implicit admission that Republican "voter ID" initiatives and similar measures were pursued in order to suppress the African American vote, and now an implicit admission that the Republican Party is not attempting to compete with the Democratic Party for Republican votes? But there must be something more to transitioning from the present state of affairs to a context in which "both parties [a]re competing for [African American] votes" than the Republican Party's merely retreating from efforts to suppress African American voter turnout. Douthat does not explain what that might be.
Such a turn of events wouldn’t just be good news for Republicans. It would be good news for black Americans, as it would mean that both parties were competing for their votes.
As Jon Stewart put it, if the Republican Party wants to win more African American votes, "You can’t just yadda yadda yadda the last 60 Republican years". Other than "Let's back off voter suppression efforts," what does Douthat suggest? Meanwhile, rather than suggesting that an outcome the Democratic Party opposed, and which Republican partisans have been seeking for decades, is a gift to the Democrats, perhaps Douthat should ponder the fact that if he's correct it will still be the Republican Party that cuts off its nose to spite its face. The gift in that imagined future is not from Roberts to the Democratic Party, it would be from the Republicans.