The Supreme Court rules Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision. The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Roberts who was joined by the three other conservative justices with Kennedy providing the winning vote.

Section 4 determined what jurisdictions are subject to “preclearance,” a process by which the federal government gets to review any changes to local voting laws before they go into effect.

The majority concluded that while this level of federal interference was once justified by extraordinary circumstances the progress made over the past 50 years means it is no longer acceptable in many places. Roberts wrote, “Nearly 50 years later, they are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”

The majority believes that section 4 has serious problems on 10th amendment grounds and with regards to the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty. Since Congress didn’t take into account changes on the ground when deciding which states should be covered the court ruled their formula to be unacceptable. Theoretically Congress could try to create a new formula.

The likely outcome of this ruling is that these states will push for new laws that make it more difficult to vote. In other states controlled by Republicans it has become common practice in the past several years to push for voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting. These laws make it harder for certain groups of people that lean Democratic, such as those with low income or who reside in cities, to vote. This will probably hurt the Democratic party in large segments of the South.

Photo by S.E.B released under Creative Commons License