Supreme Court deals blow to Voting Rights Act

By a 5-4 vote today, the Supreme Court majority voted in Shelby County v Holder to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which requires certain counties and states with a recent history of voting rights violations to "pre-clear" before a federal judge any changes they wish to make to voting rules and regulations.  This move is a step backward, not forward, for our nation's strides toward racial equality because discrimination has not been eradicated, it ha simply taken subterranean forms.

Adam Liptak of the New York Times called section 4 the "heart" of the VRA. The effect of this ruling is to make it more difficult for litigants to challenge discriminatory voting laws.  Whereas any changes had to be OK'd by the feds when Section 4 was valid, now that the provision is struck down, complainants now only have after-the-fact litigation as a recourse.  But litigation is costly and requires the person who is wronged to know their rights, and then seek out and possibly pay legal counsel for redress.  It is a high bar to clear for poor people who may lack the education to know their rights have been violated and to have the knowedge of how to to find legal counsel.

Justice Ginsburg summarized her dissent from the bench, a move that shows deep disagreement with the majority.  Invoking Martin Luther King Jr, she said:

“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “'The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”

“That commitment,” she said, “has been disserved by today’s decision.”

"The court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’s decision.”, she concluded.

Today the Court majority is too optimistic of our racial progress in its turning a blind eye to the multitude of forms that discrimination can take.  Justice Ginsburg also noted the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority, but that discrimination had not been erradicated.