The Supreme Court of the United States issued another opinion in a case, Shelby County v. Holder, on Tuesday, June 25, 2012, this time striking down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the National Constitution Center. The case on appeal comes from Shelby Count, Alabama.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that Sections 4 of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional and essentially has instructed Congress to find a new formula in order to give the federal government power to approve voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. The full opinion can be found here.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court evaluated which parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were still needed, which require states and local governments with a history of discrimination to get pre-clearance from the federal government before making any changes to voting laws.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in order to prevent barriers that were in place specifically in southern states to make it more difficult or even prevent residents of different races from voting. The Act came during a pinnacle moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
Two sections in the Voting Rights Act were of particular importance. Under Section 4, the Act defined districts that need “pre-clearance” as having had a voting test in place as of November 1, 1964, with less than 50 percent turnout for the 1964 presidential election.
Section 5 prohibited selected districts and states from changing their election laws or procedures, including election districts, voting rules and polling locations, without first getting official approval from the federal government. These “districts” included all or parts of 16 states, including virtually the entire Southern region of the United States.
Section 5 had previously been brought up before the Court in 2012 when the Justice Department used it to block voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. Both states fell under Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In addition, the Justice Department has used Section 5 to block more than 2,000 proposed voting changes in Section 5-covered states.
The Court attempted to reassure that the action of striking a portion of the law as unconstitutional does not condone racial discrimination.
“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,” said Roberts.
The court heard arguments in February 2013 in the case. Shelby County, Alabama, filed suit in district court, claiming that Section 5 and Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional. Two lower courts then ruled that those sections were constitutional.
The Voting Rights Act will now be sent back to an already full Congressional docket. At this point it is uncertain how quickly it will be ruled upon and what reaction both parties will have.