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Supreme Court: Sec. 4 of Voting Rights Act unconstitutional
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Supreme Court: Sec. 4 of Voting Rights Act unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, striking down a key part of a landmark Civil Rights-era law that protected voters from discrimination. The decision covers Arizona's election laws.

By a vote of 5-4, the court ruled that Section 4, which used data from the 1960s and 70s to provide a "coverage formula" for Section 5, could "no longer be used." 

The decision on Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, with Justice Clarence Thomas concurring. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. 

Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act defines the “covered jurisdictions” of states that were found to racially discriminate and had low voter registration in the 1960s and early 1970s. 

"Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically," the ruling read.    

"Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, '[v]oter turnout and registration rates' in covered jurisdictions now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels. ...Yet the Act has not eased 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 ruling leaves the Voting Rights Act's Section 5 in place, which requires certain states to get preapproval for changes in their election rules. However, Section 5 largely loses its significance without Section 4, which would determine which states required such preapproval.

Roberts, who wrote the decision, said, "Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions."

Ginsburg, who wrote the dissent, said, "The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed."

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

High Court strikes down key provision of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, a major blow to supporters of oversight of voting laws that they say protects against discrimination.

Section 4 applies to the formulas that determine which territories are subject to preclearance by Congress under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, including Texas. Section 5 is the reason the state’s legislative and congressional district maps, and its voter ID law have been on hold or subject to court battles.

The court ruled in an Alabama case, Shelby County v. Holder, that the formulas used to determine whether voting laws should be reviewed should no longer apply.

"Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 opinion. "It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day."

Although the court did not issue an opinion on Section 5, the ruling makes that section null and void, said Michael Li, an attorney and editor of Texas Redistricting blog.

“The chief justice says pretty clearly in his opinion it can no longer be used as a basis for review,” he said. The court took "the easier path,” he added, by not directly addressing Section 5.

SCOTUS Blog writer Amy Howe wrote in her analysis: “Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.”

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act applies only to places — mostly states, but some counties — where there is a history of discrimination in the application of election laws. It requires those jurisdictions to win permission from a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., or the U.S. Department of Justice before local laws that affect voting can be changed.

Arizona is one of 16 states covered — in full or in part — under Section 5. The case does not affect another part of the law — Section 2 — that prohibits discrimination in election and voting law.

— Ross Ramsey and Julian Aguilar/Texas Tribune

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