2013 Archives

SMU Experts:
Is treating some states differently constitutionally suspect?

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

June 27, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 25 struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws.

Civil rights groups called the decision devastating to what many considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation in American history.

Here is what SMU experts say:

Political Expert: Intentional disenfranchisement has become a rarity

Matthew WilsonMatthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science, said: 

"The Court just did what they had ben signaling for some time that they were moving towards.  Treating some states and jurisdictions differently from others is a constitutionally suspect practice on its face, and was only justified in the case of the Voting Rights Act on a temporary basis because of extreme conditions." 

"If the disparate treatment of certain states and localities — essentially, a presumption of racism in every electoral change that they make, unless they prove to the Justice Department otherwise — is to continue, it must be based on similarly extreme and compelling contemporary circumstances.  Fortunately, the success of the Voting Rights Act (most of which remains intact after the Court's ruling) means that, occasional hyperbolic rhetoric to the contrary, such extreme, Jim Crow-style exercises in disenfranchisement have become exceedingly rare."

Wilson specializes in the politics and voting behavior of religious voters, as well as public opinion, elections, religion and politics, and political psychology.

Theological Expert: There has been overwhelming national, social, and religious support for the Voting Rights Act

William B. Lawrence, Dean of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist UniversityWilliam B. Lawrence, Dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology

"It is a matter of pastoral curiosity to me that many Texans including journalists saw the Court's decision on same sex marriage to be a matter of high religious interest but did not see the Voting Rights case as something of religious interest. I think both cases are profoundly important to the church."

"The civil rights actions that led ultimately to the adopting of that legislation in 1965, the overwhelming approval of renewing the legislation by Congress (including a vote of 98-0 in the Senate), and the signing of the renewal by President George W. Bush should suggest that there has been overwhelming national, social, and religious support for the Voting Rights Act. Will there be any religious outrage that it has been modified significantly by a 5-4 vote? Will any religious leader or preacher this weekend proclaim that the court majority in the Voting Rights Act bowed to the "political correctness" that is sweeping one political party in America to oppose voting rights by certain segments of the population who can be identified by race, ethnicity, language, or socio-economic class?" Read more.

Lawrence is a recognized expert on United Methodism and American culture, and United Methodist history and doctrine. He frequently comments on the intersection of religion and culture.