June 25, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
By a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The case, titled Shelby County (Alabama) vs. Attorney General Eric Holder, dealt with a part of the Act that forces certain states and districts of the country to clear with the U.S. government any changes they propose to make in voting processes.
The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, read in part, “State legislation may not contravene federal law. States retain broad autonomy, however, in structuring their governments and pursuing legislative objectives. Indeed the 10th Amendment reserves to states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government, including the power to regulate elections. The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles. It requires states to beseech the federal government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own. And despite the tradition of equal sovreignty, the act applies to only nine states, and additional counties.”
It goes on to read, “That is why in 1966, this court described the act as ‘stringent,’ and ‘potent.’ The court nonetheless upheld the act, concluding that such uncommon exercise of Congressional power to be justified by exceptional conditions.”
Then, in announcing the decision, the court said the decades-old formula Congress used to identify areas of the country subject to stringent oversight of election procedures is no longer Constitutional.
“The court rules that Section 4 of the Act is unconstitutional,” the ruling stated.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today,” President Obama said afterward. “For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”
The court did not strike down the advance approval requirement of the law that has been used, mainly in the South, to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965. But the justices did say lawmakers must update the formula for determining which parts of the country must seek Washington’s approval, in advance, for election changes. The Chief Justice said for the conservative majority that Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
“As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote,” Obama said. “But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by her three liberal colleagues, dissented from Tuesday’s ruling. Ginsburg said no one doubts that voting discrimination still exists.
“But the court today terminates the remedy that proved to be best suited to block that discrimination,” she said in a dissent that she read aloud in the packed courtroom.
Justice Clarence Thomas was part of the majority, but wrote separately to say again that he would have struck down the advance approval requirement itself.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.