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Voting Rights Act section 4 ruled unconstitutional

Voting Rights Act section 4 ruled unconstitutional

Today the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the case Shelby County vs. Holder.

Rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 will be tomorrow (Tuesday)

The ruling “in plain English” by SCOTUSblog:

Today’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, in Plain English: Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. 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. 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.

The ruling is here in pdf including the dissent by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan:

In the Court’s view, the very success of §5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy. Congress was of another mind. Recognizing that large progress has been made, Congress determined, based on a voluminous rec­ ord, that the scourge of discrimination was not yet extir­ pated. The question this case presents is who decides whether, as currently operative, §5 remains justifiable,1 this Court, or a Congress charged with the obligation to enforce the post-Civil War Amendments “by appropriate legislation.” With overwhelming support in both Houses, Congress concluded that, for two prime reasons, §5 should continue in force, unabated. First, continuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and second, continuance would guard against back­ sliding. Those assessments were well within Congress’ province to make and should elicit this Court’s unstinting approbation.

Pete Williams and Erin McClam report for NBC news:

The act is considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed. Congress has renewed it four times, most recently in 2006, with overwhelming margins in both houses. That renewal extended the law through 2031.

But the law still uses election data from 1972 to determine which states, cities and counties are covered. Some jurisdictions complained that they are being punished for the sins of many decades ago.

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

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by three other members of the court’s more liberal wing.

Bloomberg live blog of today is here


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Elizabeth Kaeton

One would think. Then again, I never thought I would see the Voter Rights Act so gutted.

Adam Spencer

Wouldn’t a ‘states rights’ bench strike down DOMA (even while, perhaps, upholding Prop 8)?

Elizabeth Kaeton

This is clearly a ‘states rights’ bench which does not bode well for DOMA or Prop 8

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