SCOTUS and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: It’s Up to Congress

Voting Rights Act The Supreme Court has decided to halt use of a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the voting rights decision and, effectively, the Court is leaving the decision about voting rights up to Congress by saying that legislators can draft another, more modern formula for voting rights. This action is a blow to all of those people who have defended the right to vote through this Act since at least 1965.

Section 5 of the Act requires states with histories of racial discrimination to get Justice Department approval before changing their voting laws. It’s a necessary check on politicians seeking to disenfranchise people who aren’t likely to vote for them.

Now the high Court – dominated by conservatives – has decided that this section of the law no longer characterises voting. Apparently they have missed all of the efforts to suppress the vote in both southern and northern states. Perhaps this decision shouldn’t surprise anyone; Justice Scalia fired the first shot at Section 5 when he stated that the provision that some seek to see stricken from the Voting Rights Act is the “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” and the conservative justices are skeptical that the federal government should still require pre-clearance of voting system revisions in those states that have a dishonourable history of racial discrimination in elections.

Where are we now? This act gives Republicans carte blanche to deny voting rights to millions of citizens. The Supreme Court’s action pushes down a key part of the Voting Rights Act  and it’s going to be open season on voting rights; the right to vote shouldn’t vary depending on the state in which citizens reside but we’ve seen what Republican governors are willing to do to stack the deck in their favour.

Voting is very much in the news lately, as it has been under attack since long before the last presidential election. In mid-June, Nevada’s Republican governor vetoed a bill that called for the expansion of the voter registration window in his state. On June 17th, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states cannot on their own require would-be voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before using a federal registration system designed to make signing up easier. The justices voted 7-2 to throw out Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “Motor Voter” voter registration law. Writing for the court’s majority in that case, Justice Antonia Scalia stated that federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself.”

Apparently, one favourable step, as was the case with Arizona, didn’t warrant another positive step on a federal level. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion speaks to an out of touch Court that seems to believe that discrimination has significantly disappeared from the nation — despite all efforts to the contrary in those states that clearly need supervision of their voting practices.

 

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