Voting Rights Act In The Supreme Court’s Crosshairs
When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments next week about the constitutionality of a key element of the Voting Rights Act, the Obama administration and other proponents of the law will be facing five very skeptical justices.
Shelby County v. Holder is the latest in a string of landmark cases that will shape the legacy of the Roberts Court. Proponents of the law are extremely nervous, and privately acknowledge that they face a steep uphill climb in winning over a majority of the justices.
At issue is the validity of Section 5 of the landmark 1965 law designed to quash voter disenfranchisement efforts such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Section 5 requires states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination (read: mostly in the south) to seek preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes to their voting laws. The law was upheld in 1966 by a Supreme Court that deemed it valid to correct the “insidious and pervasive evil” of racism. The law was most recently reauthorized in 2006 by a nearly unanimous Congress, with Section 5 intact.
The votes of down-the-line conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are not in question. And Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likelier swing votes, both laid the groundwork to strike down Section 5 in a 2009 case when the Supreme Court held that a Texas jurisdiction was eligible to apply for a exemption to Section 5 but refrained from ruling on the constitutionality of the law.