Voting Rights Act Altered in Controversial Supreme Court Ruling

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The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act Tuesday in a controversial 5-4 ruling that left some civil rights advocates irate.

That part of the law designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.

Section 5

The 5-4 ruling was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

They ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the 48 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” but felt it "had no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional."

The formula devised in that section, the SCOTUS determined, "can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

“While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote.

The Voting Rights Act has recently been used to block a voter ID law in Texas and delay the implementation of another in South Carolina.

Both states are no longer subject to the preclearance requirement.

In his statement, Roberts said Congress recently extended a 40-year-old formula based on "obsolete statistics and that the coverage formula "violates the constitution."

Congress, the court ruled, “may draft another formula based on current conditions" reflecting which states, counties and towns must achieve preclearance.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a wide-ranging dissent on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

"The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective," Ginsburg wrote in what was a stinging rebuke.

"The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed."

The court did not rule on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

That act, the preclearance requirement itself, requires those affected states to have changes to their voting laws cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court.

Rather, the court ruled that the current formula that determines which states are covered by Section 5 is unconstitutional, effectively eliminating Section 5 enforcement.

At least until Congress re-writes the formula, which some feel it is unlikely to do, as the House of Representatives is currently under GOP control.

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