Supreme Court guts Civil Rights-era voting protection, siding with 'Old Confederacy'

A divided US Supreme Court voided a central part of the Voting Rights Act, a law put in place during the Civil Rights movement to prevent historically racist states from creating obstacles to voting, Tuesday.

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the Supreme Court’s opinion
in Shelby County vs. Holder on Tuesday. The 5-4 decision,
evidence of clear partisan lines in the nation’s highest court,
was celebrated by Southern states and criticized by President
Barack Obama for declaring federal oversight on state election
changes unconstitutional. Roberts did not specify which, if any,
part of the Constitution the rule violated.

Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), invalidated by
Tuesday’s decision, explained the formula used by Congress to
identify regions of the US subject to extra scrutiny when local
lawmakers try to change election rules. Section 4 was the
precursor to Section 5, which gives the federal government the
power to “preclear” any state or local changes in election
rules that could potentially prevent minorities from

Both the Justice Department and individual voters were able to
file suit if they believed a state or local municipality was
instituting a law that would put undue burden on a specific
demographic, a protection that saw its end on Monday. 

Under the formula, Congress singled out states based on their
history of past abuses. Most of the states affected by the ruling
are in the South, where politicians frequently signed laws meant
to silence the black population by way of making their votes
count less through redistricting and other tactics. The VRA of
1965 nullified the systemic discrimination allowed by the Jim
Crow laws, adopted in the century following the abolition of

States that prevented African Americans from, in addition to
other infractions, registering to vote, voting of running for
office were singled out by Section 4. 

The Supreme Court’s majority ruled that, because the VRA was
enacted decades ago, Congress must use updated criteria to
determine which states are subject to the federal oversight. In a
seeming contradiction, the Court cited the VRA’s success in
protecting an equal voting system as a reason to void Section

Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP

Roberts asserted that “things have changed dramatically
over time. Since 1965 voter registration, voter turnout and the
number of African American political leaders have all vastly
increased, Roberts claimed, “in large part because of the
.” Yet Roberts and four other justices called for new
criteria not “based on decades-old data” and voter
suppression methods, such as literacy tests, that have been
rendered irrelevant by Section 4. 

Roberts’ claims are wrong, though, some reporters pointed out on
the day.

The regions covered by the part of the Act that was struck
down, Section 4, have, in recent years, been twice as likely as
those not covered to have proven violations under other sections
of the Act
,” wrote The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

Without a new formula for Section 4, which most experts agree is
unlikely after years of Congressional gridlock and polarization,
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act cannot be implemented. 

Roberts also wrote that Congress “cannot justify the
considerable burdens created by Section 5
,” despite
overwhelming numbers in each chamber voting to reauthorize the
VRA in 2006. In the seven years since that renewal, 31
discriminatory voting laws were blocked by Section 5, according
to The Nation magazine, with six of the nine southern states
covered by Section 4 enacting new voter suppression laws since

Texas’ voter ID law, which was blocked under Section 5 by a
federal court last year and could disenfranchise up to 800,000
registered voters without government-issued photo ID, will
immediately go into effect
,” wrote Ari Berman in The Nation.
The states of the Old Confederacy will return to the pre-1965
playbook, passing new voter suppression laws that can only be
challenged, after years of lengthy litigation, in often-hostile
Southern courts, with the burden of proof in those subject to
discrimination, rather than those doing the discriminating

Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who serves in
one of the states previously covered by Section 4, announced
Tuesday that the “process for implementation of Constitutional
Voter Identification begins today

Chief Justice Roberts was joined in his opinion by Justices
Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel
Alito. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia
Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented. Each of the Justices in the
majority was appointed by a Republican president, while the
dissenters were appointed by Democrats.  

President Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the

Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA,”
Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. “Congress approached the 2006
reauthorization of the VRA 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 … One would expect more from an opinion
striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of
civil-rights legislation

Ginsburg, appointed by former president Bill Clinton in 1993,
noted that the “racial polarization in voting” means the
issue is especially pressing today. While Ginsburg delivered her
remarks, though, Alito visibly rolled his eyes in dismissal,
leading to gasps from several audience members.

His treatment of the 80-year-old Ginsburg, 17 years his
senior and with 13 years more seniority, was a curious display of
judicial temperament, or, more accurately, judicial
,” wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Typically, justices state their differences in words — and
Alito, as it happens, had just spoken several hundred of his own
from the bench. But Alito frequently supplements words with
middle-school gestures

Congressional leaders pledged discussions on Section 4 over the
summer, but admitted doubts over whether Republicans and
Democrats would be able to agree on the issue.

This article originally appeared on: RT