I generally feel better when I’m the company of Judge Posner. I’m not always on board with his conclusions, but he’s an awfully smart guy. He hits harder than I did on the majority’s notion of “equal sovereignty” in yesterday’s case striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
On this concept of “equal sovereignty,” used to justify striking down the VRA because it treated the old Confederacy more harshly than other states in terms of flexibility for changing voting procedures, Judge Posner says, “This is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard—for the excellent reason that, as Eric points out and I will elaborate upon briefly, there is no such principle.”
He points out, for example, that some states, like Utah were admitted to the union only on the condition that they outlaw polygamy. Other states did not have their status in the union conditioned on the state of their polygamy laws. Judge Posner is skeptical of the states rights rhetoric from the majority:
That evidence—the record before Congress—should have been the end of this case. For apart from the spurious principle of equal sovereignty, all that the majority had on which to base its decision was tenderness for “states’ rights.” One doubts that this actually is a primary value for any of the justices. The same conservative majority that decided Shelby had rejected a more cogent argument for states’ rights when it held three years ago in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment—a provision of the Constitution designed to secure state autonomy—specifically, the right of states to maintain their own little armies, the militias, against federal abolition—creates rights against states’ limiting gun ownership. It seems that the court’s regard is not for states’ rights in some abstract sense but for particular policies that a majority of justices strongly favors.