Shelby County v. Holder: SCOTUS Pulls the Plug On Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act; Jeopardizes Section 5

ByGabriel Grand

In the Supreme Court's decision of Shelby County v. Holder, issued Tuesday morning, the Court overturned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In doing so, the Court avoided issuing a holding on the controversial Section 5, instead opting to effectively undermine the operation of Section 5 by striking down Section 4.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that certain states and districts in the South receive approval from the federal government before they make any changes to voting procedures. This measure, enacted during the Lyndon Johnson presidency, was designed to ensure that Southern states and districts would not attempt to exclude black voters from the polls through literacy tests and other discriminatory voting laws.

In the 5-4 decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court declared that the law, which Congress most recently renewed in 2006, did not reflect racial progress and changes in US society in the last half-century.

In lieu of striking down the "advance approval" requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, however, the justices ruled that lawmakers must now revisit and revise the formula that determines which areas of the country must seek federal approval before changing voting procedures.

Without Section 4, which specifies the states and localities to which the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act applies, Section 5 no longer carries any weight.

It is now up to Congress to draft and agree upon new terms for Section 4 before Washington's jurisdiction over local voting procedures can be reinstated.

Chief Justice Roberts declared in his opinion of the case, "Congress could have updated the coverage formula [in 2006], but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare §4(b) unconstitutional."

Ironically, it is Congress' ability to act that will now determine whether or not the Court's decision of Shelby County v. Holder will also doom Section 5 to a similar fate.