Andrew Cohen’s piece at the Atlantic on the VRA decision has the following headline:
On Voting Rights, a Decision as Lamentable as Plessy or Dred Scott
And no, it isn’t just the headline writer saying this since Cohen himself writes:
It will be viewed by future scholars on a par with the Court’s odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America.
Really? As lamentable? On par? I am not an expert on the legal issues involved and thus don’t have a strong or well-informed opinion of the case. Given my knowledge of American history (and the fact that I’m a Yankee), I have a knee-jerk sympathy to the idea that southern states should be watched closely when it comes to civil rights issues. But would even most critics of the Court’s decision really say it was “as lamentable” as – or “on par” with – cases that respectively: 1) “declared that slaves were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts,” “declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories,” and required two amendments to the Constitution to fix (Library of Congress); and 2) upheld the racist Jim Crow legal regime that allowed for segregation and created the awful “separate but equal” standard???
If Cohen is right, why are we talking about anything else since these are two of the most pernicious court cases in the history of the Republic? Or is Cohen engaging in hyperbole that undermines the reality that Dred and Plessy were wayyy worse than anything contemporary courts would say or could get away with today?