Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights

3108940818_220820dbc7After a Supreme Court decision this morning, it may become more difficult for all Americans to secure their voting rights.

By a 5-4 vote, the Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the law which was created to prohibit states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Section 4 designated which states needed to get federal approval for any voting rule change that would affect African Americans and other minority voters, but the majority of justices ruled that the current formula for designating those states used outdated facts and is thus unconstitutional. The Court decided not to rule on Section 5, which sets down the requirement for prior federal approval.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a blistering dissent: “Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake­ proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.” She added,

Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the [Voting Rights Act] with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story.

The decision has been condemned widely by those concerned with minority voting rights. Said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,

The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation’s most important and effective civil rights laws. Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. Today’s decision is a blow to democracy. Jurisdictions will be able to enact policies which prevent minorities from voting, and the only recourse these citizens will have will be expensive and time-consuming litigation.

Vice President Joe Biden said that the Obama Administration will now work to help Congress devise new legislation in response to the ruling, hoping to restore protections for minority voters.

Photo courtesy of retmiles via Creative Commons 2.0.


Lucy Vernasco is a senior at the University of Illinois.