Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) declared on Tuesday that his commonwealth had “outgrown” institutional racism and no longer needed to be subject to the Voting Rights Act’s redistricting requirements. Speaking to a group of reporters in Richmond, Cuccinelli argued that Congress ought to remove Virginia from a group of nine southern and western states who must get their redistricting maps pre-approved by the Department of Justice in order to prevent discrimination against minority voters:
Cuccinelli also addressed the issue of redistricting, saying he thought it was time for Virginia to be released from its federally mandated oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Under that law, Virginia’s redistricting plan every 10 years must be “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department, which is meant to ensure that Southern states are not discriminating against racial minorities with their new political boundaries.
Cuccinelli, however, said Virginia has “outgrown” that requirement, as the state — which he acknowledged originated Massive Resistance — is no longer marked by institutionalized bigotry.
“I think as a state, as a commonwealth, we have outgrown that,” he said. “We have grown as a commonwealth a great deal in my lifetime.”
Despite Cuccinelli’s insistence that the Voting Rights Act is antiquated and dispensable in Virginia, discrimination remains an unfortunate but major aspect of our society. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of new state schemes to discriminate against minority voters have been blocked by the Department of Justice. Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) came under immense criticism for for attempting to undermine a candidate preferred by Hispanics by scheduling the special election during a Mexican religious festival.
Cuccinelli’s comments are not idle banter. They are part of an orchestrated conservative effort to undermine the Voting Rights Act and remove federal protection for minority voters. Last year, conservatives took aim at Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court case NAMUDNO v. Holder. The Court upheld the legislation in an 8-1 vote – conservative Justice Thomas was the lone dissent – but as the Wonk Room’s Ian Millhiser notes, the Roberts-led Court may be threatening to “invalidate the statute” if Congress doesn’t alter the Voting Rights Act soon.
Still, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played a key role in protecting minority voters in Virginia. Following the 1990 census, Virginia was ordered by the Department of Justice to draw a protected majority-minority district in order to prevent voters in southeast Virginia from being disenfranchised. If Cuccinelli were to get his way, the 3rd congressional district would no longer be protected and legislators in the state would be able to gerrymander congressional districts to their heart’s content.
Cuccinelli’s belief that the commonwealth has “outgrown” institutional racism is an unfortunate echo of Stephen Colbert’s sarcastic refrain that in the era of Obama, “racism is over.“