Liberals are horrified by any talk of getting the feds out of the election business, somewhat understandably. The passage of the Voting Rights Act is a treasured chapter in American political history. It's also not surprising that much of the argument for keeping it unreformed rests on the emotional resonance of the civil rights movement half a century ago and the alleged popularity of the law.
Nostalgia is a weak argument for any law, or so liberals usually tell me. As Justice John Roberts wrote in 2009: "Past success alone ... is not adequate justification to retain the preclearance requirements." And, popularity shouldn't be an issue at all. The popularity of slavery was one reason the court could hand down an opinion such as Dred Scott.
President Obama (who is black and twice carried Virginia) disagrees. If the preclearance requirement were stripped, he said, it "would be hard for us to catch those things up front to make sure that elections are done in an equitable way." That's true. But that logic basically amounts to turning the Civil Rights Division into a permanent department of pre-crime.
It's true Congress keeps renewing the law (the last vote extends Section 5 until 2031), but one reason for that is that liberal politicians, journalists and activists are quick to demagogue anyone in favor of retiring Section 5 as being "anti-civil rights," in much the same way any criticism of the Violence Against Women Act is instantly spun as support for wife-beating. You may not have noticed, but the Democratic Party has a vested interest in -- or at least a nasty habit of -- cynically using race as cudgel against its opponents. It's no wonder Republicans have little desire to take up the issue.
Whether the Supreme Court ends up throwing it all out or simply goading the Justice Department to do the right thing, the court is playing a useful role by forcing our system to acknowledge the fact of racial progress.