SCOTUS neuters the Voting Rights Act.

Our nation's highest court has struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-to-4 ruling delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to decide what states are subject to voting law pre-clearance is unconstitutional. Under the Voting Rights Act, certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting are required to seek and obtain approval from the Department of Justice, or a three judge panel in D.C., before making any changes to their voting laws.

In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the 1965 Voting Rights Act by huge majorities in the House and the Senate, and President Bush signed the legislation within one week. Despite the fact that Congress had numerous hearings, and compiled thousands of pages of documents while reconsidering the Voting Rights Act, the Court determined that the formula Congress enacted to decide which states would be covered by preclearance was no longer constitutional.

The opinion stated that “coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Congress – if it is to divide the States – must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely on the past.” The Court complained that Congress could have acted to update the formula, but did not.

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion that Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined. She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King writing, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. History has proved King right. Although circumstances in Alabama have changed, serious concerns remain.” Because of today's ruling, it will be much more difficult to ensure that those “serious concerns” do not block minority voters from the polls.

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