U.S. Supreme Court strikes down key part of Voting Rights Act of 1965

June 25, 2013

Government/Politics, Laws

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down key part of Voting Rights Act of 1965

By Adam Liptak
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, ruling that Congress had not provided adequate justification for subjecting nine states, mostly in the South, to federal oversight.

“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

Chief Justice Roberts said that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. When the law was last renewed, in 2006, Congress relied on data from decades before. The chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determines which states must receive preclearance from the federal authorities.

The court did not strike down Section 5, which sets out the pre-clearance requirement itself. But without Section 4, which determines which states are covered, Section 5 is without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the towering legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. Its central provision, Section 5, requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before making changes in laws that affect voting.

That means jurisdictions covered by Section 5 must get federal approval before they make minor changes to voting procedures, like relocating a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts.

The Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the law, saying that Section 5’s “preclearance requirement” was an effective tool to combat the legacy of lawless conduct by Southern officials bent on denying voting rights to blacks.

Civil rights leaders, on the other hand, say the law played an important role in the 2012 election, with courts relying on it to block voter identification requirements and cutbacks on early voting.

Section 5 was originally set to expire in five years. Congress repeatedly extended it: for five years in 1970, seven years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years.

See entire article

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html

The Formula Behind the Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court ruled that a formula used to define which areas fell under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Section 5 required some places, mostly in the South, to obtain federal permission before changing voting laws.

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Voting Rights Act

Voting Rights Act

See link for more maps
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/23/us/voting-rights-act-map.html?ref=us&_r=0

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Video: Voting Rights Act takes hit by U.S. Supreme Court

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Video: President Lyndon B. Johnson-Remarks on the Signing of the Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965)

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Video: March 16, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson-Speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on voting legislation that would lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965

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Video: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments
The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the 3rd and final of the Reconstruction Amendments.

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Video: Plessy v. Ferguson and its impact on African Americans voting
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of “separate but equal”. Decided May 18, 1896

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