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Provision of Voting Rights Act struck down by Supreme Court

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Supreme Court this week removed states from special federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court ruled that the data Congress used to identify the states covered by it was outdated and unfair.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The court says that Congress must now come up with a new formula based on current data in order to identify which states should be covered. Supporters of the law, which protects minority voting rights, say this will be very difficult for a Congress divided along partisan lines to come up with such an agreement.

The act currently covers the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as Alaska and Arizona, and parts of seven other states.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts said that the court had warned Congress four years ago, in a separate case, which basing the coverage formula on "40-year-old facts" led to serious constitutional questions.

"Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so," Roberts wrote. "Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [the formula] unconstitutional.

"Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions."

Roberts was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Roberts Jr. and the other conservative members of the court in the majority.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized the liberals' disagreement with the decision by reading her dissent from the bench, arguing that the Constitution's Civil War amendments specifically instruct Congress to pass laws enforcing equal rights that protect the voting interests of minorities.

Ginsburg noted the 2006 extension of the act was approved unanimously in the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush.

"Congress' decision to renew the act and keep the coverage formula was an altogether rational means to serve the end of achieving what was once the subject of a dream: the equal citizenship stature of all in our polity, a voice to every voter in our democracy undiluted by race," she said.

She was joined in dissent by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

At stake was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which even opponent's credit with delivering the promise of political inclusion to minority voters.

The court reviewed the provision for the sixth time since passage in 1965. It survived each challenge. Conservatives hailed the decision as recognition of state sovereignty and of the fact that the country has changed since the act was first passed. As Roberts noted from the bench and in his opinion, black turnout in recent elections was higher than that of whites.

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