Today, the Supreme Court of the United States, in an unfortunate and regrettable misstep, has chosen to dissolve the power and efficacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Before the Court today was the case of Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act but has left in place the requirements of section 5. Delivering the opinion of the Court was none other than GOP poster-boy, Justice John C. Roberts.
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act established that states, counties and towns are subject to evaluative criteria. To determine whether a state would be subject to the preclearance requirement of section 5, a place would be evaluated for whether any of two criteria were applicable to it. The first, whether the jurisdiction considered used “tests and devices for voter registration.” The second, whether the jurisdiction’s voting rate in the 1964 presidential election was at least 12 points below the national average. If these criteria were met, the subject jurisdiction would then be subject to section 5’s preclearance requirements.
Section 5 required that any jurisdiction that Section 4 applied to, when seeking to amend or change their voting practices, file for preclearance with the federal government. According to the Court, section 5 is suspect because of the heightened requirements that jurisdictions coming under section 4 must meet. Proponents of section 5 argued that the decline in racial discrimination seen post-Voting Rights Act implementation were thanks to the threat of being subject to section 5. The Court explains that while these requirements have been effective, the current reason for keeping section would make it “immune to scrutiny.”
While expressing that the protections of section 5 are powerful and effective, removing the criteria for applying section 5 (section 4) the Court has effectively removed the Voting Rights Act. Congress could apply new criteria to determine whether jurisdictions are subject to the Voting Rights Act. The hope is thin that this Congress, known for partisan gridlock and ineffectiveness, will be able to administer an amendment over something as controversial, for them, as the Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.