Supreme Court strikes down part of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is invalid. Credit: Reuters
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is invalid. Credit: Reuters

In a major blow to civil rights activists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down an important part of a 48-year-old federal law designed to protect minority voters.

The court ruled on a 5-4 vote in favor of officials from Shelby County, Alabama, in finding that a section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that sets the formula that determines which states need federal approval to change voting laws is invalid.

Writing for the majority, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said the coverage formula that Congress used when it most recently reauthorized the law in 2006 should have been updated.

“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” he wrote. “It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

The court, split on ideological lines, did not go as far as striking down Section 5 of the law, known as the preclearance provision, which requires certain states to get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making election-law changes.

But a majority did invalidate Section 4 of the act, which sets the formula for states covered by Section 5 and was based on historic patterns of discrimination against minority voters.

Although Section 5 is technically left intact, it is effectively nullified, at least for the near future, as Congress would now need to pass new legislation setting a new formula before it can be applied again.

As a result, the ruling is a heavy blow for civil rights advocates, who believe the loss of a working preclearance program could lead to an increase in attempts to deter minorities from voting. They say that 31 proposals made by covered jurisdictions to modify election laws have been blocked by the Justice Department under Section 5 since the law was re-enacted in 2006.

One of the most closely watched disputes of the court’s current term, the case centers on the civil rights-era law that broadly prohibited poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures that prevented blacks from voting. In the 1960s, such laws existed throughout the country but were more prevalent in the South with its legacy of slavery.

Section 5 of the law required certain states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change does not discriminate against black, Latino or other minority voters.

The nine fully covered states were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

The Shelby County challengers said the kind of systematic obstruction that once warranted treating the South differently is over and the screening provision should be struck down.

The Obama administration, backed by civil rights advocates, had argued that the provision was still needed to deter voter discrimination.

The issue of voting rights remains prominent in the United States. During the 2012 presidential election campaign, judges nationwide heard challenges to new voter identification laws and redrawn voting districts. The most restrictive moves ended up being blocked before the November elections.

Just last week, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona state law that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship, a victory for activists who said it discouraged Native Americans and Latinos from voting.

Democrats say that and similar measures, championed by Republicans at the state level, were intended to make it more difficult for certain voters who tend to vote Democratic to cast ballots.

The case is Shelby County v. Holder, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-96.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 29,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on August 29, 31 and 31. Several streets and avenues will be…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…