Voting Rights Act Decision: Roberts Court Joins America's War on Voting


Today, SCOTUS dubbed Section 4 of the Voters Rights Act unconstitutional in a "nail biting" 5-4 decision.

This particular section of the 1965 civil rights act, as many of you know, outlines the coverage formula used to choose which states fall under Section 5 of the legislation. Section 5, the meatier of the two in discussion, stipulates that particular states by obligation receive federal government permission before making any changes, no matter how small or particular, to their voting laws. Thus, though Section 5 of the law was left standing, it was also effectively rendered obsolete as Section 4 returned voting law regulation power back to individual states and stripped it from the feds.

The Supreme Court Justices seemed particularly concerned with getting it through Congress's collective thick head that voter discrimination in the South is no longer as rampant today as it was in 1965. Chief Justice Roberts even fired off the biting quips that "things have changed in the South" and that the burdens imposed by the preclearance requirements "must be justified by current needs." The court pointed to high voter registration rates among blacks and the re-election of a black president as proof that the provision is no longer needed. The judges raised criticisms that the law was a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and an outdated badge of shame that should no longer be worn by any state.

Unfortunately, the court's decision today slightly re-emphasized America's War on Voting, at least temporarily.

The law in discussion undoubtedly played an important role in the 2012 presidential election. With tighter voter identification laws impending and cutbacks on early voting looming, a large portion of American voters are doomed to face even greater hurdles in their already marginalized attempts to vote. I'm talking about our system in the U.S. of voting on workdays, among many other traps. Some Americans may even now find themselves in jeopardy of disenfranchisement.

The problem that the court legitimately addressed today had to do with the states in question under Sections 4 and 5 of the Voter Rights Act. And that's fair. No longer are the same states as in 1965 – primarily located in the South – the only ones battling for state redistricting and tighter voter ID laws. The problem has spread throughout many states in the country: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio are all currently under discussion as well. There absolutely does need to be some reconsideration of what states should sacrifice sovereignty to in their power to legislate voting law; or perhaps, more uniformly, all states should have to go through the national government to enact changes.

But whichever the case, abandoning any regulation or restriction offers a scary amount of power to individual state leaders bent on reassessing voting practices for personal political gains. The Supreme Court suggested that Congress redesign and take this law up as a bill again, but, if Congress has proved anything, it could be quite some time before decisive legislative action is taken again.

This lull of legislation is what problematizes the entire situation, and is what the Supreme Court perhaps forgot to consider in their hearings today. This lull is what enables and even reemphasizes America's war on voting. There could be immediate ramifications, or states could demonstrate greater integrity than what this analysis has offered them. But I'm a skeptic.