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Supreme Court Voting Rights Act Decision — Section 4 invalid

Supreme Court Voting Rights Act Decision — Section 4 invalid

NOTE:  Tomorrow is the last opinion day — so we will get gay marriage and DOMA decisions.  Be here at 10 a.m.

Section 4 of Voting Rights Act held invalid. Full Opinion embedded at bottom of this post.

Via ScotusBlog live blog:

10:10 Amy Howe: Shelby County. The Chief writes.

10:11 Amy Howe: Holding: Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.

10:11 Amy Howe: Thomas concurs. Ginsburg dissents, joined by Breyer Sotomayor, and Kagan.

10:12 Amy Howe: Section 4 is unconstitutional in light of current conditions. In 1966, the formula was rational in both practice and theory.

10:13 Amy Howe: The Court makes clear that: “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions”

From the Chief Justice’s majority opinion:

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And §4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States—an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.” South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U. S. 301, 309 (1966). As we explained in upholding the law, “exceptional conditions can justify legislative measures not otherwise appropriate.” Id., at 334. Reflecting the unprecedented nature of these measures, they were scheduled to expire after five years. See Voting Rights Act of 1965, §4(a), 79 Stat. 438.

Nearly 50 years later, they are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions….

At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements….

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.

The following chart, compiled from the Senate and House Reports, compares voter registration numbers from1965 to those from 2004 in the six originally covered States. These are the numbers that were before Congress when it reauthorized the Act in 2006:

Supreme Court Voting Rights Act Opinion Chart

…. There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices….

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….

There is no valid reason to insulate the coverage formula from review merely because it was previously enacted 40 years ago. If Congress had started from scratch in2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present coverage formula. It would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between States in such a fundamental way based on 40-year-old data, when today’s statistics tell an entirely different story. And it would have been irrational to base coverage on the use of voting tests 40 years ago, when such tests have been illegal since that time. But that is exactly what Congress has done….

Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions still exist justifying such an “extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.” Presley, 502 U. S., at 500–501. Our country has changed, and 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.

Supreme Court Voting Rights Act Opinion

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Comments

Too bad it was such an obvious partisan split. That tends to undermine confidence, and with a sensitive subject like race the problem is compounded. I would have hoped that at least one of the liberals would have seen a problem with keeping the South permanently in the penalty box.

    Pasturized in reply to DarkHelmet. | June 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I would have hoped that at least one of the liberals would have seen a problem with keeping the South permanently in the penalty box.

    Why would anyone imagine that?

      Voyager in reply to Pasturized. | June 25, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      It wasn’t just the south. The way the ac t was written it was slowly sucking more and more states into it. For example, prior to the ruling, it also covered Alaska, parts of Michigan, and New York.

      When did New York have “Jim Crow”?

    objective in reply to DarkHelmet. | June 25, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    I agree with you that this is a partisan split. As someone from “the south”, however, I disagree with your premise. If there is no intent to commit fraud or break the law, what possible constriction could section 4 of the VRA impose? Are you arguing that simply “feeling punished” is reason enough to change the law? Are you saying we should risk voter suppression, which the south has a rich history of up to and including the most recent election, in order to make certain southerners don’t feel penalized?

      Milhouse in reply to objective. | June 26, 2013 at 6:45 am

      Are you nuts, or just lying? The covered states and counties can’t make any change to their voting law or procedures, not even so much as moving a polling place, without begging Washington for permission. Do you imagine that that’s a mere formality?! Do you imagine that the DOJ just looks at it and says “sure thing, there’s no intent to commit fraud or break the law here, so go right ahead”?! On the contrary, the first thing they ask is how this will reduce or increase black voting power, i.e. how it will help or harm the Democratic Party. (And because the career DOJ staff have an entrenched D partisanship, it doesn’t even matter who is president at the time, the review will still be subjected to this analysis, and anything that the DOJ thinks will harm the Ds will be rejected.)

        objective in reply to Milhouse. | June 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

        It appears you have an entrenched–and conspiratorial worldview upon which you are basing your conclusions. What possible discussion and logical rational arguments can come from such a statement as this: “DOJ staff have an entrenched D partisanship, it doesn’t even matter who is president”

I see I need to do research. The title of the thread refers to section 4 of the voting act and said it was voted unconstitutional by SCOTUS

but in the opinion by Roberts section 5 is mentioned;
“Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism’

so I need to find out what section 4

Section 4 sets the criteria for exercising Section 5.

The Court says Section 4 is unconstitutional, but Congress can legislate a new Section 4. Until Congress does, Section 5 is moot.

    Milhouse in reply to Neo. | June 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Section 5 remains, so far, constitutional, so long as it’s applied only to places that desperately need it, according to a rational system or formula that correctly identifies those places. Section 4, which is the formula for deciding where Section 5 applies, clearly does not meet this test, because it’s exactly the same as it was 50 years ago, so how can it possibly be tailored to today’s conditions?

Positive progress.

Quoth Justice Ginsberg:

In the Court’s view, the very success of §5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.

Well, that’s how things work in the real world. The success of a “temporary” corrective measure should be seen as a reason to suspend the corrective measure. For example, if the passenger side tires of a car slip off the side of a narrow road one steers harder to the left to correct the problem and then returns to normal driving, one doesn’t keep the wheel cranked to the left once the vehicle is back on the roadway. Unless, that is, one wants to end up in the ditch on the left side of the road.

    rinardman in reply to Pasturized. | June 25, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Unless, that is, one wants to end up in the ditch on the left side of the road.

    The Democrats have been steering us toward the ditch on the left side of the road, for years.

    objective in reply to Pasturized. | June 25, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    Really? Are you arguing that because fewer people commit car theft when it is against the law, we should remove grand theft auto as a felony? Have you considered the viability (or lack of) and implications in other areas (perhaps the second amendment?) of this perspective?

      Milhouse in reply to objective. | June 26, 2013 at 6:51 am

      Get lost, troll. You are not arguing in good faith. Section 5 of the VRA is an extraordinary measure, that bans perfectly legitimate actions, because of a supposed emergency condition at the time it was passed. If the emergency no longer exists, the measure is no longer justified.

      The correct car theft analogy would be if Congress, noting a spate of car thefts, required all engines to be locked, and required that before you drive any car you must first call the police, prove to them that you haven’t stolen it, and get them to unlock it for you. The Supreme Court sustains the law on a temporary basis, because car theft has become such a bane on society. Car thefts go down, but 50 years later it’s still a felony to drive your own car without getting a policeman’s permission. Justified or not?

CPT. Charles | June 25, 2013 at 10:38 am

Heh… ‘Reconstruction’ ends in the South.

Bring on the Voter ID laws…

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl:
[“This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.”]

Liz Warren was claiming 3.125% (1/32)

>>”At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.”

I’d like to know more about this. What are the citations? Is there a pattern of discrimination anywhere, and where?

    Ragspierre in reply to raven. | June 25, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Well, we have photographic and video evidence of a particularly awful instance in Philadelphia a few years back…

      retire05 in reply to Ragspierre. | June 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Bartle Bull, civil rights proponent/lawyer/Democrat called the NBP case the worst case of voter intimidation he had ever witnessed, even in the Jim Crow South.

      Eric Holder dismissed an already won case to pander to the NBP.

      Valerie in reply to Ragspierre. | June 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      I’d like some cites, too.

      I think partisans are tempted to, and try to, cheat in nearly every election. If I hadn’t observed cheating in something so trivial as a law school student election, I would deny that it exists. But, I know better now. People do lose their minds from time to time.

      To me, “voter discrimination” (presumably, they meant that term to mean “voter discrimination based on race”) is different from ordinary cheating. It is systemic, where the state acts in some way to stop some class of people from voting, for trivial reasons (race, creed, color, sex). That I don’t see.

      Of course, I don’t see a law simply requiring valid Id to vote as being race-based discrimination.

    Neo in reply to raven. | June 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    There was a case, that split the DOJ Civil Rights division, of Black official conspiring to undermine the voting rights of Whitey in Mississippi.

    Frankly, I believe that this case sounded the death knell for Section 4.

    objective in reply to raven. | June 25, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Uh, have you heard of google? Jeez.

Midwest Rhino | June 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

So the “Paula Deen and ALL white southerners are racist” gambit has failed. Nice try by the BigGov/BigNetwork conglomerate. 😉

2 steps backward, 1 step forward. And they call it progress 😉

So, the US Congress suspended parts of our Consitution due to an extraordinary situation for nearly 50 years, while the USSR suspended all of their Constitution for about 75, and then disintegrated.

I think the contrast in the two situations in instructive: Americans can narrowly tailor their remedies, and then step back from them, without destroying their Union.

    Ragspierre in reply to Valerie. | June 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    But…ObamaCare and “immigration reform”.

    Blows that theory all to hell and gone, dunnit…???

I am disappointed that the Chief Justice believes that racial discrimination in voting still exists. The implication being that it is black people who are discriminated against. That is just not true. The only discrimination in voting is that directed against whites. But he had to say that because of mau-mauing from the radical left. I did notice that he said it existed, but did not mention blacks. Maybe he really understood the issue, but fooled the radical left.

Obamatroidiks are amusingly going bananas in a massive self-beclowning on the Intertubes. Ah well, we needed some comic relief after Monday’s disgraceful cloture vote.

[…] reasoning is strong. Legal Insurrection has a chart showing that the registration gap between Whites and Blacks has nearly disappeared in the five […]

The knee jerk reactions to this post are largely without merit. Please provide data, facts, research and metrics before espousing an opinion that can be disproven with a simple google search. Kudos to those saying they need to research the topic: it appears most on this board are more interested in substantiating their own opinions, making them poor advocates for a conservative viewpoint.

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