A June 25 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court finds Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, which could restrict where the Act can be enforced.
In the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the court stated that an outdated formula was used to determine if states or counties need federal clearance for any voting laws.
Shelby County, Ala. was originally contesting Section 5, which requires areas covered by the Voting Rights Act to get approval from the U.S. Dept. of Justice before any changes to voting procedures could be enacted.
Section 4 of the Act provides the measurement used to determine which states, counties and townships are subject to Section 5: all districts that once used voting tests to discriminate minority registration, and that had less than 50 percent turnout in the 1964 presidential race, were subject to federal oversight on elections.
Because minority voter registration has improved since then, the comparison to 1964 turnout is outdated, the court ruled by a 5-4 decision.
“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically,” says the SCOTUS decision.
While the U.S. Dept. of Justice can still have oversight, a new method to determine where it can apply that oversight must be used.
“We issue no holding on (Section) 5 itself, only on the coverage formula,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
In dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsberg cited many examples of continued and recent attempts of discrimination in elections, including one from Charleston, SC.
In 2003, state Sen. Arthur Ravenel Jr. forced legislation that made Charleston County’s School Board change from regional to at-large districts. In the next election that year, the number of African Americans on the nine-member board fell from five to none.
The chair of South Carolina’s Democratic Party disagrees with the ruling, as well. “The Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision is extremely disappointing,” says Jaime Harrison.
“The Democratic Party will always stand on the side of those defending access to the ballot for all eligible Americans, especially here in South Carolina where we have so often seen efforts to restrict the rights of those who simply want to exercise their freedom and participate in the political process.”
The Act is currently applied in nine states including South Carolina, as well as a few select counties and townships in six other states across the country.
Today’s ruling could change those locations, however, pending on how congress determines the formula used to determine where the Voting Rights Act will be applicable.
The decision is already having effect in South Carolina. A bill passed June 12 that changed the methods of candidate registration and eligibility no longer needs approval of the Dept. of Justice, meaning it goes into effect immediately, according to the Dorchester County Elections & Registration office.