Jun 25, 2013

(The Atlantic) -- The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder on Tuesday. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the 5 to 4 decision. The court found that the VRA's formula for deciding which jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance is unconstitutional, SCOTUSblog explains, because while the formula was rational in the 1960s, it's not anymore. In other words, things are different in the South.

The Alabama county challenged Section 5 of the legislation, which requires that states and counties with a history of trying to block minorities from voting get pre-clearance from the Justice Department to change any voting laws — from the requirements to register to vote to the location of a polling station. Section 4 is the formula that determines what places Section 5 applies to. The majority opinion says, "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." Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and joined Roberts to strike down the decision. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented. Ginsberg wrote, "The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective."

There were hints this was coming earlier this month, when the court struck down an Arizona law requiring people to show proof of citizenship beyond the federal requirements to register to vote. Some thought this was the court giving itself room to strike down the VRA by showing it wasn't radically anti-voter protection. And the court had been hinting for years that the VRA would not survive. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in 2009 that "Things have changed in the South." The old Jim Crow laws were gone: "Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels."

Click here to read more about what this decision means.


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