Best Reactions to the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act Decision

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In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed by Congress in 1965 and amended and extended several times, most recently in 2006. The New York Times says that the decision "frees nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval," also known as "preclearance." After the decision came down, State Attorney General Greg Abbot said Texas would "immediately" enact a voter identification law which had been blocked by a panel of federal judges.

SCOTUS strikes section 4 Voting Rights Act

June 25, 2013 - Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. - JESSICA PICKENS, 19, of Chicago, stands with fellow voting rights activists outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the day the court ruled on the Voting Rights Act striking down portions of the law. (Credit Image: © Pete Marovich/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Section 4 of the act determined which states must receive preclearance, based on data about the existence of racial discrimination at the polls. The data was last revised in 1975, though Congress reauthorized its use several times since then. The court did not strike section 5, which maintains the requirement for preclearance, but without a solid new plan for determining those states, which it would be up to the Republican-majority Congress to enact, section 5 has nothing to preclear.

For the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said that things have "changed dramatically" in the affected states in the past 50 years: "Problems remain in those states [Mississippi and Alabama] and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides." He also noted that that section 4 was "based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day."

In a bench dissent representing her opinion as well as those of justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, "In the Court's view, the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy. Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA." She also stated, “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.”

In Blogs and Mainstream Media

Amy Howe, SCOTUS Blog:

When the Court issued yesterday’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, civil rights groups breathed at least a qualified sigh of relief. After months of worrying that the Court might prohibit the use of affirmative action in higher education altogether, affirmative action survives – at least for now. By contrast, today’s decision was pretty much as bad as voting rights groups had feared: although the Court did not strike down the preclearance requirement, it rendered it essentially ineffective until Congress can decide who should be covered by the requirement going forward. And no one expects that to happen anytime soon.

SNIPY, Wonkette:

So did the Supremes leave Congress a way to fix this mess by updating the preclearance formula math? Sure, but that only works if you believe you have a functional Congress and HAHAHA YOU DO NOT.

Janell Ross, in The Root:

Now some voting and civil rights advocates fear that an even more divided and, some say, dysfunctional Congress will be unable to approve a new formula for which communities and states should become or remain subject to Section 5. Or, worse still, minority-voting rights could become a sort of political hostage in larger, ongoing political clashes around public spending or health care.

Amy Davidson, in The New Yorker:

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, should also dispose of the idea that Roberts and the Court’s other conservatives are modest deferrers who recoil at judicial activism. The decision in this case, Shelby County v. Holder, is about as activist as judges can get.

Eric Posner, in Slate:

What exactly is wrong with the singling out of states by the federal government? Is the idea that when Alabama is on the playground with the other states, they’re going to make fun of it because it had to ask its mama for permission before going out to play? In fact, the federal government doesn’t treat states equally and couldn’t possibly. Nearly all laws affect different states differently.

Nate Silver, at The Five Thirty Eight blog in the New York Times:

To the extent that there would be any effects from abandoning certain requirements, would they help Democrats or Republicans on balance?

The safest answer is that it will tend to help whichever party is in control of the redistricting process in a given state: the fewer legal constraints that party has, the freer it will be to draw Congressional districts as it sees fit. So if Democrats are in charge of the redistricting process in New York in 2020, perhaps they can find a way to squeeze out another Democratic seat or two by splitting up minority voters. And if Republicans are in charge in Texas, perhaps they can avoid giving up as many seats to Democrats by diluting the minority vote in cities like Dallas and Houston.

Thus, legal rulings that weaken the effect of the Voting Rights Act will tend to increase the importance of the 2020 elections, when control of the redistricting process will be at stake. But any of these effects are likely to be relatively minor compared with the role geography plays.

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