The United States Supreme Court yesterday issued a ruling in “Shelby County v. Holder.” The case challenged the constitutionality of the so-called “preclearance provisions” of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The Court struck down a key provision of the VRA effectively fueling the growing movement around the country to suppress voting by minorities.
That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote the Court’s main opinion and suggested that VRA was vulnerable because it was no longer keyed to current discrimination experience, again was the author of the main opinion. Chief Justice Roberts was joined in full by Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. In addition, Justice Thomas wrote a separate opinion saying that he would have struck down additional provisions in the law.
In an unusual move, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her strongly worded dissent in open court and argued that “the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.” VRA was passed in 2006 and extended the law for another twenty-five years. Justice Ginsburg wrote that the decision “strik[es] at the heart of the nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation.” The dissenting opinion was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.
President Barack Obama issued a statement on the ruling, saying that “I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans.”
President Obama continued, “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”
President Obama added that “As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.
Rep. Robin Kelly spoke out against the ruling. “The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that provides special federal oversight of elections in areas of the country in which minorities face pervasive voting discrimination.”
Rep. Kelly added that “I am extremely disappointed in this decision, which is a major setback for voting rights and will have a real and detrimental impact on millions of Americans. The Voting Rights Act is a vital tool to protect voters from losing their right to vote simply because of their race. Congress must act to protect voters of color and to address the persistent threat of racial discrimination. I am committed to working to ensure all Americans have every necessary protection for the right to vote.”
Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois issued the following statement. “Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy, and the Voting Rights Act has been a critical and effective means to guarantee that right. I am disappointed by the Supreme Court decision announced today, which halts nearly 50 years of civil rights progress. I join President Obama in urging Congress to pass new legislation that will ensure every American has equal access to the polls. I will contact the members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation and urge them to make this a priority.”
The chances of this being remedied during this contentious session of Congress are minimal.
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books. John has volunteered for many political campaigns.