Supreme Court strikes down key section of the Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court today struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines which states must have their approach to voting cleared by the federal government. These states have a bad track record with with people of color and non-English speakers’ rights to vote. From Colorlines:

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.”

The Voting Rights Act was not totally struck down, so it can still be saved by Congress if they change the way the law determines which states require oversight.

The Voting Rights Act is not about discrimination that’s way in our past. It’s proved incredibly relevant as recently as the 2012 election, when it was used to strike down voter ID requirements and stop states from limiting early voting. These are unsubtle tactics used to keep marginalized communities from casting a vote. The Supreme Court’s ruling is dangerous in a context where we very much need this law. It also comes at a time when the court is increasingly saying legal responses to discrimination are discrimination. The Court just sent an affirmative action case back to a lower court, but in oral arguments conservative justices sounded like they wanted to get rid of affirmative action. And now we could be turning the clock back on voting rights. This is bad.

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