After extensive research that exposed discriminatory practices in voting still existed, the 109th Congress elected to extend the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 for twenty-five more years. On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck that extension down as unconstitutional. Its focus was on Section (§) 4 of the VRA, which established a formula for determining which areas continued to discriminate and truncate the rights of others from voting. §4 also discusses other barriers to voting such as language. §5 of the VRA was instituted to enforce §4 by requiring any changes in voting policy or practice must be cleared by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or by the U.S. Attorney General before allowed to take effect.
The decision by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder is that the egregious practices that prompted enactment of the VRA in 1965 no longer exist; therefore, the extraordinary measures taken in 1965, albeit the catalyst for improvement towards voting parity, are not necessary anymore. The dissenting justices, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer, led by Ginsburg, argue that the very fact the VRA has worked to ameliorate the egregious conditions of the past does not infer discontinuance, but, rather, extension of it to ensure against backsliding. With voter disenfranchisement still continuing as seen by recent national elections and the pursuit of voter fraud and the inauguration of voter I.D. cards, for instance, the argument that there is no need for such safeguards as §4 and §5 provide is starkly ludicrous.
Besides, it is clearly the Congress that is charged with determining whether or not the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is being violated. That is not the Court’s job. If Congress members feel that reauthorization is necessary based upon valid research, then they have met the standard of rationality that Amendment demands. It is not within the purview of the Court to buck precedence by deciding the evidence is not extraordinary enough. Ginsburg makes this point strongly in her dissent.
If Justice Clarence Thomas had his druthers, §5 would also suffer the axe. His argument is that the slashing of §4 requires the rescission of §5, because the latter depends on the former. However, §5 is not merely about the formulas in §4; it covers a myriad of attempts to disfranchise voters beyond the parameters of §4. Ginsburg points out that over 700 findings of discrimination by the Department of Justice occurred between 1982 and 2004—significantly more than were determined between 1965 and 1982! Clearly, that record is evidentiary of the need for §4 to remain intact.
The sad fact of the matter is our time will be wasted by a plethora of litigation that will demonstrate discriminatory attempts and practices still exist in the body politic. If individuals are unable to afford to retain a lawyer, then class action suits will most assuredly find their way into the judicial system. The lack of insight in making this decision demonstrates a concomitant lack of foresight regarding the ineluctable the burden such a decision will have upon the Court.
It’s ironic that the decision to support marriage equality came upon the heels of the denial of voting equality!