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Supreme Court Strikes Down Voting Rights Act Clause

The US Supreme Court has struck down a key part of a landmark Civil Rights-era electoral law designed to protect minority voters. By a margin of 5-4, the justices quashed section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
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The Supreme Court has struck down a key part of the Civil Rights electoral law designed to protect minority voters. Here's what you need to know:

Reports the BBC:

By a margin of 5-4, the justices quashed section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

They ruled that an updated method was needed to decide which jurisdictions' election laws require monitoring.

The law requires a number of US states, mostly in the South, to receive federal approval for election changes.

Shelby County in Alabama launched the legal challenge. It argued that the "pre-clearance" process was out of date and an over-reach of federal power.

But supporters of the provision said recent efforts to change election laws in some parts of the US, including a series of voter identification laws, underlined why the measure was still relevant.

The Voting Rights Act was extended for 25 years by Congress in 2006 with broad support.

The Huffington Post reports:

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, found that “things have changed dramatically” in the south nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was signed.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act," the court ruled. "The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process."

“Section 4 and 5 were intended to be temporary, they were set to expire after five years,” the justices added.

From the New York Times:

The court did not strike down Section 5, which allows the federal government to require preapproval. But without Section 4, which determines which states would need to receive clearance, Section 5 is largely without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

Given the current partisan nature of Congress, reaching agreement on a new formula may be difficult.

The story is continuing and will be updated.


Justice Ginsburg released the following dissent:

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet. [...]

The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ ance is no longer needed. Ante, at 21–22, 23–24. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself. The same assumption—that the problem could be solved when particular methods of voting discrim­ ination are identified and eliminated—was indulged and proved wrong repeatedly prior to the VRA’s enactment. Unlike prior statutes, which singled out particular tests or devices, the VRA is grounded in Congress’ recognition of the “variety and persistence” of measures designed to impair minority voting rights. Katzenbach, 383 U. S., at 311; supra, at 2. In truth, the evolution of voting discrim­ ination into more subtle second-generation barriers is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclear­ ance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent backsliding.

Beyond question, the VRA is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment. For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.