The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has concluded the business of ruling on cases for the time being, and we thought that we would devote several blogs to an explanation of some of the more groundbreaking decisions that SCOTUS handed down in this session. In our concluding blog in this series, we are focusing on the Supreme decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, at least in part, to diminish the ability of state governments to kill, threaten or intimidate those who were trying to ensure that black citizens would be able to vote. One aspect of the Voting Rights Act called for mandatory “preclearance” of state voting regulations on the part of the federal government, meaning that, until this recent SCOTUS decision, the U.S. Justice Department (or a federal court) had to determine whether the voter ID laws passed in Mississippi in 2011 and 2012 diminished the voting strength of minorities.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that there was no need for federal preclearance, and, therefore, Mississippi can go forward with allowing the precondition of making voters show a government issued photo ID before being allowed to vote.
The majority of the Court held that part of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. Section 4 listed which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made changes to voting procedures.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “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.”
In her scathing dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.”
HOW THIS AFFECTS AMERICANS:
It is presumed that the June 2014 federal primaries will be the first time that voters in Mississippi, under the new law, will be required to show photo ID at the polls. How this ruling will affect voters in other states remains to be seen. Because of this ruling, other changes to voting regulations could take place without federal pre-clearance.