Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the Voting Rights Act brought to the court by Shelby County, Alabama. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires states to get approval from the Department of Justice before making changes in voting laws. For example, such a change could be a regulation that requires voters to show a certain form of identification at the poll. This could potentially discriminate the elderly who might not need, or have ever gotten, identification. It could also be seen as discriminatory against the poor who might not be able to afford the cost of identification, and also discriminating against minorities who are disproportionately members of the lower economic class.
During the arguments, Justice John G. Roberts defended removing the Voting Right’s act and cited data complied by the Census Bureau in 2004. He referred to statistics that directly impacted the regulation on section 5 states, claiming that Black voters turned out in greater percentages than White voters in Mississippi; he also claimed that the opposite is true in a non-section 5 state, Massachusetts. Nate Silver, of the NY Times Five Thirty Eight blog, examines the validity of the data and calls into questions the logical conclusions that could be drawn from it.
If I were the lawyer defending the Voting Rights Act, I would have responded with two queries to Chief Justice Roberts. First, are Mississippi and Massachusetts representative of a broader trend: do states covered by Section 5 in fact have higher rates of black turnout on a consistent basis? And second, what if anything does this demonstrate about the efficacy of the Voting Rights Act?
There has been a disturbing trend to rollback the Voting Rights Act. Texas did so back in June as it tried to pass stricter identification regulations. The attacks are eerily similar to the assault on Woman’s Rights during the last election. More disturbing is the conclusion that Justice Roberts draws based on the 2004 data. Nate Silver elucidates this:
Most of you will spot the logical fallacy in the following claim:
No aircraft departing from a United States airport has been hijacked since the Sept. 11 attacks, when stricter security standards were implemented. Therefore, the stricter security is unnecessary.
And goes on to highlight the logical fallacy:
No aircraft departing from a United States airport has been hijacked since the Sept. 11 attacks, when stricter security standards were implemented. Therefore, the stricter security is working.
Intro to logic might be the very first course taken in law school, there are no words to describe this error. Either Justice Roberts is trying to deceive the American people, or is not competent to serve in his role. One thing is clear, the Civil War is far from over!
Written by, Matthew Cohen SWI – SJS Staff Writer