The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is Dead: RIP!

It’s time to Break It Down!

By order of federal statute, annual Sessions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) begin the first Monday in October.  The Court will close its 2012-13 Session today.  Before wrapping up the current Session, the Justices will likely rule on two controversial cases: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Proposition 8.  Both cases deal with issues of marriage and gender equality.  There will be a great deal of interest generated by the decisions on both cases.

In fact, in many ways, SCOTUS saved a sample of the year’s most high profile cases until the end of the Session.  This is a common practice; recall the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was disposed of near the end of last year’s Session.  During this final week, the Court remanded a key Affirmative Action case back to a lower court on Monday.  Yesterday, by a 5-4 vote, the Court struck down the central element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), Section IV.

It is fair to say this action did not come as a total surprise to those who are even vaguely familiar with the current composition of the Court.  It did, however, send reverberations through the civil rights community, through an array of minority communities that experienced numerous well-documented challenges to voting in the 2012 Election, within the Justice Department, and of course, in the Oval Office.

Despite the Court’s reticence, Congress re-authorized the VRA, consistently, whenever it was up for consideration.  Not only did Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush sign VRA re-authorization bills, but also in the most recent instance of the Act’s renewal, the Senate voted unanimously, 98-0 to re-authorize the law.  At the same time, in the House, the vote was not unanimous, but it was overwhelming, 390-33.

As we prepare to head into July, the penultimate month before the (August 28th) Observance of the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, there is acute irony in what amounts to the decertification of voting rights protections.  This judicial downgrade of voting rights will mute any revelry and exultation the anniversary of the March generates.

Like any great issue of the day, there are advocates and opponents of the VRA.  The five Justices who voted to characterize Section IV of the VRA as unconstitutional are not politicians.  They do however represent a distinct position on the political spectrum.  In short, on the Left, VRA supporters are asking, collectively, “How could they?”  Alternately, on the Right, the opposition is saying, “It’s about time!”

Section 4 of the VRA identified one group of States covered in their entirety (Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia), and a second group of States (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, and North  Carolina), in which selected jurisdictions are covered by the provisions of the law.  The Court did hold that discrimination actually still exists, and that it is bad.  Nevertheless, the Furious Five (Justices) contended that the data set used to identify States subject the VRA is outdated.  This, they say, was the cause for overturning the Act.

The Court did not invalidate a second provision, Section 5.  However, without the support of Section 4, Section 5, which deals with “pre-clearance,” may be irrelevant, due to an inability to secure advanced clearance.  In short, for now a least, “The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is Dead: RIP!

I’m done; holla back!

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