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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Supreme Court Strikes Down Unconstitutional Section 4 Of Voting Rights Act (Ruling Embedded)

By Susan Duclos

The 68-page Supreme Court ruling will be embedded below the article.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Section 4 of the Voting rights Act designated which parts of the country must have clearance from the federal government or federal court before making changes to their state's voting laws.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority " In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were."

Roberts also 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 simply on the past."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Via NYT:

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determines which states must receive preclearance from the federal authorities. 

The court did not strike down Section 5, which sets out the pre-clearance requirement itself. But without Section 4, which determines which states are covered, Section 5 is without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

More from the ruling, highlighted by Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, William A. Jacobson:

Outside the strictures of the Supremacy Clause, Statesretain broad autonomy in structuring their governments and pursuing legislative objectives. Indeed, the Constitution provides that all powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government are reserved to the States or citizens. Amdt. 10….
Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among the States….

The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles. It suspends “all changes to state election law—however innocuous—until they have been precleared by federal authorities in Washington, D. C.”….

And despite the tradition of equal sovereignty, the Act applies to only nine States (and several additional counties). While one State waits months or years and expends funds to implement a validly enacted law, its neighbor can typically put the same law into effect immediately, through the normal legislative process….

Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Shelby County contends that the preclearance requirement, even without regard to its disparate coverage, is now unconstitutional. Its arguments have a good deal of force. In the covered jurisdictions, “[v]oter turnout and discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” Northwest Austin, 557 U. S., at 202. The tests and devices that blocked access to the ballot have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.
[Update] - After Supreme Court Decision, Photo ID Now Required To Vote In Elections In Texas

 Supreme Court ruling embedded below: