Washington-- The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act, weakening a tool the federal government has used for nearly five decades to block discriminatory voting laws.
By a vote of five to four, the court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. That section of the landmark 1965 law provides the formula for determining which states must have any changes to their voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department's civil rights division or the D.C. federal court. Nine states are required to get pre-clearance, as are certain jurisdictions in seven other states.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that Section 4 is unconstitutional because the standards by which states are judged are still "based on decades-old data and eradicated practices."
"Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically," Roberts wrote. "The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years. Yet the Act has not eased [Section 5's] restrictions or narrowed the scope of [Section 4's] coverage formula along the way. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown even stronger."
The court could have made a much broader ruling by striking down Section 5, which dictates that those states must get pre-clearance. However, the court decided that the Justice Department still has a role in overseeing voting laws.
The ruling underscores the Supreme Court's lawmaking powers, challenging Congress' overwhelmingly bipartisan decision in 2006 to renew the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. It's now up to Congress to change the coverage rules so that Section 5 -- the section requiring pre-clearance of voting laws in certain states -- can continue to be enforced.
Statement from Roy Cooper, NC Attorney General: "This ruling doesn't eliminate North Carolina's obligation to keep elections open and accessible. Now that this important tool used to fight election law discrimination is gone, the legislature must take even more care to resist new laws that make it harder for people to vote."
ACLU-NC Statement: Today, in a 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced until Congress revisits the formula used to determine which states and localities require federal approval to change voting laws. Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement: "The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important civil rights laws in American history and has played a vital role in protecting the voting rights of North Carolinians from its passage in 1965 to the present. With attempts to suppress voting becoming more common and more sophisticated across the country, and North Carolina's legislature poised to approve legislation that will make it harder for thousands of eligible state voters to cast a ballot by requiring forms of ID that many North Carolinians lack and cannot easily obtain, the need for such protections is more urgent than ever. Unless Congress acts promptly to make sure that the federal government has the tools it needs to protect voting rights, today's decision could leave many North Carolinians vulnerable to attempts to exclude them from the democratic process. We urge Congress to act without delay."