The U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a key component of the Voting Rights Act, calling a section that helped determine which states and jurisdictions were subject to the 49-year-old law's "preclearance requirement." The decision -- when coupled with a conservative Congress -- effectively overturns the law.
But Section 4 -- and the entire law -- was reauthorized in 2006 by large majorities in both houses and signed by President George W. Bush. Congress, the body charged with fact-finding as part of its law-drafting responsibilities, apparently found the 1975 schema to be valid. The court, in overruling Congress and the president, has done what conservatives have criticized prior courts of doing -- writing law. This is, to use the conservative phrase, a case of judicial activism.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 Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they make minor changes to voting procedures, like relocating a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts.The current coverage scheme, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, is "based on 40-year-old facts having no relationship to the present day.""Congress -- if it is to divide the states -- must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions," he wrote. "It cannot simply rely on the past."
As The New York Times writes in an editorial, it also is a "damaging and intellectually dishonest ruling." The court, it writes, "eviscerated enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, in which Congress kept the Constitution's promise of a vote for every citizen," without bothering to "rule on the constitutional validity of the idea that some places have such strong records of discrimination that they must seek federal approval before they may change their voting rules."
Instead, the 5-4 ruling usurped Congress's power and struck down the formula that Congress has repeatedly reauthorized to determine which states fall into that category.This is not going to happen -- as the court well know -- because Congress "refused to expand the coverage formula in 2006," when it was in Democratic hands, and it "is extremely unlikely to take up the offer now," given that it is controlled by conservative Republicans.