What did the Supreme Court just do to the Voting Rights Act?

Posted June 25th, 2013 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , ,

In 2006, the U.S. Congress voted 98-0 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another quarter-century.

This re-authorization included Section 5, which requires certain states (or parts of states)  to seek federal approval, in advance, for any changes to their voting procedures (known as “preclearance”). It also included Section 4, which provides the “coverage formula” defining which states (or parts of states) are subject to preclearance, based upon their historic use of voting procedures to discriminate against black voters.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the coverage formula is no longer unconstitutional constitutional. The majority opinion found that the formula was justified in 1966, by the “‘blight of racial discrimination in voting’ that had ‘infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century.'” Today, however, a majority of the justices agreed that “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

In particular, the Court found that blatant voting discrimination is “rare,” and that voter registration and turnout “now approach parity,” while “minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” Therefore, while the coverage formula was “rational in both practice and theory” in 1966, the Court believes that there is no longer a sharp distinction between jurisdictions with a recent history of voting-rights problems and those without, and thus it is no longer rational for Congress to re-apply the coverage formula without modification.

In practice, this decision means that the preclearance provision of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the central feature of this landmark civil rights legislation, is now inoperative. Congress does have the option of re-writing Section 4 and hoping that the Court finds their new coverage formula constitutional, but in practice, this is a very significant hurdle for supporters of voting rights to overcome.

The Court did not address Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids racial discrimination in voting across the country, and did not address the constitutionality of Section 5, requiring preclearance, itself. The Court only struck down Section 4’s formula for determining which jurisdictions are subject to Section 5, but this means that, unless Congress acts, no jurisdictions can be held to the standards of Section 5.

Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent for herself and three of her colleagues, writing that the Court has found that “the very success of §5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy,” and arguing strongly that Congress, not the Supreme Court, should decide whether or not current conditions require the continuation of Section 5’s preclearance provision, to “facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made” and to “guard against back­sliding.”

3 Responses to “What did the Supreme Court just do to the Voting Rights Act?”

  1. SusanH Says:

    Good summary. But in this paragraph I think you mean " no longer *constitutional*" don't you?

    This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the coverage formula is no longer unconstitutional. The majority opinion found that the formula was justified in 1966, by the “‘blight of racial discrimination in voting’ that had ‘infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century.’” Today, however, a majority of the justices agreed that “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

  2. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Yes — thank you for catching that, Susan!

  3. stella antley Says:

    First, let me preclude my comments by saying I have a Slave Holding Me, my Great, Great Grandmother who lived to age 111 & hold me as an infant in a rare 5 Generation Black History Portrair…and I have bur one question….Why is it in 2013 do we, Blacks, not have a Voting Rigts Law??? Why must we be subjected to quims and quasms every so many years when Lyndon Johnson’s antiquated Voting Rights Act comes befor Congress to amend, review approve etc. Haven’t we gotten there yet..? Where we no longer need any group of majority white people decide if we Black folk.still have a right to vote and which rights of protection in the letter or spirit of the law is needed or obsolete..? Is there a Voting Righs Act for white, italia, jews, puertoricans…?..have we not eared the right to vote and be guaranteed that right as a constant rather than the varible…Have we NOT overcome as yet? This is JUst one Black woman’s opinion who has worked in politics as a volunteer and State Capitol Patronage Employee.for over 20 years…Where are our Laws to.protect our Rights to Vote not an ACT…Vote already since 1966…RREEAALLLYYYY? On August 29th 2013 @ 3 pm I will be receiving the COnnecticut General Assembly’s Apology for Slavery on behalf of the Slave Holding Me, my Great,Great Grandmother in front of the Slaveship Amistad Memorial in New Haven CT and I amat a loss.for words…there are no words to speak whic ar commensurant to the Atrocities of slavery and to add insult to injury here we are 400 years of Slavery and still we have no fixed rights to vote…do the Native Americans have such or other ethnic groups have this hanging over their heads..? Are we or or we not full Americans here since before any other ethnic group other than the indigious Native Americans..? And now the antiquated. State of north carolina adds more insult to our right to.vote by reforming their voting laws to tilt in the republican favor and against black constituency…our rights and civil rights progress are being undone and guised as inocouse Splg..? Stella for the

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