The judge, after I asked about Eric Holder’s lawsuit, grunted and said, Whatever gave you the idea that law and justice are the same thing – the law can be a darn peculiar beast.
Not long ago the Attorney General of the whole United States sued the whole state of North Carolina to put a stone cold stop to the state’s new ‘voter laws.’
Republican legislators, outraged at being accused of trampling on the Constitution, but also unintimidated, shot back their new laws were not only 100% legal but, what’s more, were urgently needed to stop the state’s rampant voter fraud (which, oddly, hardly a soul seems to have seen or heard a word about before the new law passed).
The Attorney General didn’t flinch: He declared all that talk about voter fraud was a ruse hiding what legislators were really doing – scheming to make it harder for African Americans to vote.
Which was a pretty unkind thing to say.
It sounded more like Reverend Barber on a rant than a distinguished jurist solemnly defending the constitution.
But that’s not what’s odd about Eric Holder’s case.
It seems, according to the newspapers, the law is crystal clear on one fact: Making it harder for African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans is taboo. That’s discrimination. Pure and simple. And it’s illegal.
But, and this is the odd fact, passing a law to make it harder for Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats is fine. That’s not racial discrimination. It’s just hardball politics. And, strange as it sounds, it’s perfectly legal.
Well, I thought so too – but the newspaper gave an example it’s hard to get around: Redistricting.
For the better part of a century Democrats redistricted to make it harder for Republican voters to elect Republican candidates then, when the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans did the same thing (only the other way around). And every bit of that political-advantage-grabbing by one party over the other was perfectly legal.
In fact, a three judge panel just bluntly told a group of Democrats who’d sued because they didn’t like being on the receiving end of the Republican redistricting plan: Political losses and partisan disadvantages are not the proper subject for judicial review.
Which in the inerrant logic of the law means: Republicans requiring voters to have IDs, because they figured out that Democrats are less likely to have them, is fine. That’s perfectly legal.
Now, of course, like most logic there’s a limit to how much light it can shed. And that’s where the high-minded workings of law and logic run afoul of a murky kind of devilment in the form of a series of shoal-like facts, including: a) African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; and b) African Americans are less likely to have IDs; so c) targeting Democrats without IDs also means targeting African Americans.
So here’s how the law works: If you want fewer African Americans to vote because they’re African Americans, it’s illegal. But if you want fewer Democrats to vote because they’re Democrats, and as a result fewer African Americans vote, it’s legal.
Which was the judges’ point about the law: It’s a peculiar beast.