Voting Rights Act Decision: GOP Victory Could Actually Be Shot to Its Own Foot


In the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court announced today its 5-4 decision in regards to the unconstitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The court's ruling is sure to spark debate about the actual ramifications of absolving the act of its essential power by deciding that Section 4 of the act is unconstitutional. The Voting Rights Act was designed to allow the federal government the power to be made aware of any changes made in the voting laws of states and areas with a history of voter discrimination. The preclearance statute applies to many states in the Southern United States (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) as well as Alaska, Arizona, much of Virginia, and townships and counties in other parts of the country.

What the Supreme Court decided will surely have reverberating consequences for these areas of the United States, but the decision will also affect the relationship of the Republican Party to voters. The GIO seems set to establish stricter Voter ID laws in order to deal with the undocumented immigrants. What is now seen as a victory for the Republican Party's goal of gaining state's rights for deciding voting laws could become the Achilles's Heel of the party. By opening the door for voter ID laws to be introduced in places like Texas, the Supreme Court may have unknowingly let the Republican Party shoot itself in the foot.

In the past, many had complained that the law was too strict on states that had already reformed their voting practices. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) for example, said that, "(through the Act) Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven, that Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents. We have repented and we have reformed." Nevertheless, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito did not invalidate the principle behind preclearance, but they held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, essentially the method that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5 of the voting Rights Act's pre-approval requirement, is unconstitutional. Section 5 is still in effect, but without Congress introducing and passing some new method of determining which areas must use preclearance, the Voting Rights Act is thus stripped of its power for the foreseeable future. The Supreme Court found that Section 4 did not hold up to the 10th Amendment's founding of state's rights, including "the power to regulate elections." It also did not agree with the rights of states to equal sovereignty under law.

With Congress unlikely to pass any sort of method for determining preclearance, states formerly under the control of the Voting Rights Act will be able to both introduce new voter ID laws and redistrict their region. The reason this creates such a mess for the Republican Party is that by making it possible to pass voter ID laws, the party will likely alienate the Latino vote. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, has already tweeted that "Texas Voter ID law should go into effect immediately..."

With steps already clearly being taken to introduce these sort of changes, the voter makeup of the Republican Party will clearly change based on what sort of specific changes are taken with regards to voting statutes. For example, 71% of registered Latino voters in a Pew Research poll supported a photo identification law. So it is clear that not all voter law changes will alienate the Latino community. It largely depends on the Latino perception of these changes.