UPDATE AGAIN: Adam Bonin says we’re pretty much fucked.
UPDATE: Okay, not as hopeless as I thought (although anything that counts on Congress to fix it is only a theoretical remedy). But it still invites voter discrimination in the next two elections:
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines what states and jurisdictions are covered by Section 5, is invalid after less than 50 years of protecting African Americans and people of color. The currently covered areas are places that historically have disenfranchised people of color, or those for whom English is their second language. But Chief Justice John Roberts has ruled that the formula, which was last updated in the late 1960s-early 1970s, must be updated by Congress so that it covers areas that violate voting rights today. Chief Roberts, who’s had a beef with the Voting Rights Act since the early 1980s, wrote in the majority opinion:
“In assessing the ‘current need’ for a preclearance system treating States differently from one another today, history since 1965 cannot be ignored. The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future. To serve that purpose, 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. … Congress did not use that record to fashion a coverage formula grounded in current conditions. It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”
This is not a total loss for the Voting Rights Act. Section Five can still stand if Congress is able to fix the formula so that it covers areas they consider presently running afoul of voting rights.
That’s the effect of today’s ruling. Watch the Tea Party states run with it:
The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a law that was passed to ensure minorities in the South could get out to vote.
The Voting Rights Act requires states with histories of the discrimination to get permission from the federal government before making changes to their election laws.
Section 4 determines the “coverage formula” for determining the states that are actually subjected to the law. Here’s what the court held: “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”
Section 5 of the VRA — which was not explicitly ruled unconstitutional — requires 9 states with histories of discrimination (mostly in the South) to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting procedures.
The VRA was passed in 1965, when Southern states used more blatant tactics to keep blacks away from the polls such as literacy tests and “poll taxes.”
In recent years, the U.S. government has used Section 5 to stop states from passing laws that serve no real purpose other than keeping likely Democrats out of voting booths.