Gettysburg + 150; Our View; the Work of the Civil War Remains Unfinished

By Board, the | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Gettysburg + 150; Our View; the Work of the Civil War Remains Unfinished


Board, the, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


On a hot and humid afternoon 150 years ago today, 12,500 Confederate soldiers made a suicidal assault across three-quarters of a mile of open field against Union troops lodged behind fortifications south of a southern Pennsylvania town named Gettysburg.

The assault, known as Pickett's Charge, failed. Gen. Robert E. Lee, who had ordered it, withdrew his Army of Northern Virginia back south, ending the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. Lee's troops would never again threaten the north.

On the following day, the Fourth of July, a thousand miles away, Union troops under command of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured the citadel city of Vicksburg, Miss., and gained control of the Mississippi River. Lee would fight a war of attrition for another 21 months, but for all intents and purposes, after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Confederacy was doomed.

So why is it that in so many ways, the work of the Civil War is unfinished?

"Our country has changed," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote last week as the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

No doubt the chief is right. Yes, 95 years elapsed between the passage of the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which said the federal government could enforce that right. With its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down a key enforcement mechanism.

The issue would be a familiar one to Lee's troops: states' rights. Absent any overriding constitutional concerns, states make their own voting rules. The court's majority is pleased to think that 48 years of enforcing the VRA in states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination is enough.

The day before its decision in Shelby County, the court had kicked another race-related case back to the lower courts. At issue is how much value there is to the University of Texas in having a racially diverse student body and how it measures it.

The concept of affirmative action suggests that institutions can, and indeed should, try to make up for some of the nation's failures in extending the blessings of freedom. Majority-race plaintiffs, such as Abigail Fisher in the University of Texas case, don't feel responsible for the lingering ills of slavery.

Then, too, students and parents in the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County may not feel obligated to help counter the ills of urban public education in the Normandy School District. But this fall, thanks to a court order, Normandy students who want to travel 20 miles to Francis Howell Schools will be offered tuition and transportation. …

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