Supreme Court Voting Rights Act: Landmark Civil Rights Law Gutted in 5-4 Decision

Today, the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act and made a clear declaration that the court is no longer interested in what it views as racial issues of the past. The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder was a challenge to Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 required the rules, policies, and procedures that related to voting in states with a history of discrimination to be reviewed by the Department of Justice prior to implementation. Effectively, this meant that when Shelby County, Alabama attempted to implement a discriminatory redistricting plan, they had to get it cleared by the Department of Justice first. This section of the Voting Rights Act also applies to statewide redistricting plans in states like Texas and Georgia. Without this important section of the Voting Rights Act, discriminatory voting practices can still be challenged, but not until after there has been some actual injury caused by the practice. That is to say, a discriminatory voting practice can only be challenged after Election Day, when it can be demonstrated, most likely through actual voter statistics, that the law indeed had a discriminatory effect on the election outcome. The problem with this approach is obvious: The election is already over by then and it is unlikely that a new election would be ordered.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act technically remains intact after today's ruling. However, Section 4 of the law was declared unconstitutional — the portion of the law that determines the formula for which jurisdictions fall under Section 5 in the first place. This has effectively made Section 5 impossible to use, without actually striking down the law. The court declared that the formula currently in Section 4 was outdated and requires updating by Congress.

The passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, is one of the most lasting hallmarks of the Civil Rights Era. The Supreme Court today has signaled a new era and ignored the will of the people’s elected representatives. Congress voted to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act, a District Court found the challenge to Section 5 invalid, and the D.C. Circuit found that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was a valid exercise of legislative authority, but today five justices on the Supreme Court decided otherwise, and just like that, history has been rewritten.

So what now? The Supreme Court is basically displeased with the current states that are targeted and has instructed Congress to create a new list of states and municipalities that will be subject to the Department of Justice's pre-clearance review. Effectively, the Court has kicked it back to Congress. Advocates for a robust Voting Rights Act, must now focus their energy on developing a legislative strategy that gets the “do-nothing Congress” to do something.

By the end of this week, we will know if the Supreme Court is doing what I expected it would this term — that is, trading African-American rights for gay rights. So far, it appears that will be the case. For now, the Voting Rights Act has effectively been gutted and the likelihood that Congress will act on it anytime soon is unlikely. The minority right to vote has taken a deadly blow today and the proliferation of unjust voting laws will likely begin immediately.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Edward Williams

Edward Williams is currently a 3L at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is a 2009 Teach For America Atlanta Corps Member. He graduated from Howard University in 2009 with a BBA in International Business and Finance with honors. He has interned at JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch in their investment banking/sales and trading divisions, and was a 2010 Teach For America Policy and Advocacy Leadership (PALI) Fellow at the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, DC. Edward is originally from Savannah, GA.

MORE FROM

Democrats, the American Medical Association and US bishops blast the Senate health care bill

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 15 million more Americans will be without health insurance next year if the bill passes.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.

Democrats, the American Medical Association and US bishops blast the Senate health care bill

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 15 million more Americans will be without health insurance next year if the bill passes.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.