SCOTUS Strikes Key Section of Voting Rights Act (w/ Full Opinion Text)
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled Tuesday in Shelby County (AL) v. Holder that a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) could no longer be used today unless Congress derives a new way of determining which jurisdictions require monitoring from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The issue was as follows:
Whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.
In a 5-4 ruling, SCOTUS said that the 40 year old data does not represent the current situation, recognizing the advances that have been made in the United States over the last 50 years in rooting out racism and voting rights challenges.
Held: Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.
However, as the AP reports:
The court did not strike down the advance approval requirement of the law that has been used, mainly in the South, to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965. But the justices did say lawmakers must update the formula for determining which parts of the country must seek Washington’s approval, in advance, for election changes.
In its opinion, the Court said:
Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions…
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for the majority. Justice Thomas concurred, but wrote that he would also find Section 5 of the VRA unconstitutional, as well. “By leaving the inevitable conclusion unstated, the Court needlessly pro-longs the demise of that provision.”
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, and said, “In the Court’s view, the very success of §5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.”
Congress may re-do the formula if it so chooses, and until then, it would appear that this section of the VRA is voided.
After the decision, African-American leaders were providing interviews on the steps of the SCOTUS building, noticeably upset about today’s ruling. Never interested in accepting victory, it seems they just don’t want to take “yes” for an answer — yes, we have made improvements in racial relations since the 1960s and SCOTUS has recognized that today. Shoudn’t African-Americans should be celebrating their achievement?
The decision from SCOTUS in this case is included below. The final opinions of this term, including Prop 8 and DOMA rulings, will be released at 10am ET Wednesday.by