By striking down Section 4 of the VRA and ignoring the clear words of the Fifteenth Amendment, Roberts is elevating white America’s racial fatigue into constitutional law.It is difficult to overstate the extent to which racism is tied to the history of this country. Without slavery, the Declaration of Independence is hard to imagine. Without fealty to Jim Crow, there is no New Deal. At various points however—the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement—we have tried to loosen our bonds to racism and rectify the evil of the past. Each time, we make genuine progress. The 1890s were a time of savage violence and disadvantage for African Americans, but they weren’t enslaved. Blacks were still far behind the mainstream in the 1970s, but they had gained new opportunities for advancement. But to fully disentangle racism from national life requires a tremendous amount of energy. After all, you don’t just need to provide formal equality or encourage tolerance, you need to reform the whole system—the full range of institutions that privilege whites at the expense of blacks and other minorities.
Americans have never been able to commit to that project. Reconstruction was a start, and it ended in failure after a decade of Northern frustration and Southern hostility. The Great Society and the civil rights laws of the 1960s constitute the beginnings of a second attempt, and in the case of the Voting Rights Act, it was a significant success.
But that success hasn’t fixed the problem, and many Americans have grown tired of trying to remedy the effects of racism. By striking down Section 4 of the VRA and ignoring the clear words of the Fifteenth Amendment, Roberts is elevating white America’s racial fatigue into constitutional law.