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SCOTUS strikes portion of Voting Rights Act; will hand down term’s final decisions Wednesday

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The Supreme Court of the United States held Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional Tuesday, ruling that its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to pre-clearance. The case stems from Shelby County in Alabama asking for a declaratory judgment that sections 4(b) and 5 are facially unconstitutional and a permanent injunction against their enforcement.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to address racial discrimination in voting. Section 4 provides a “coverage formula,” defining the “covered jurisdictions” as states or political subdivisions that maintained tests or devices as perquisites to voting and had low voter registration or turnout. Section 5 says no change in voting procedures can take effect until approved by authorities in Washington, D.C. The states covered by the original enactment were Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia, but subsequent amendments of the Act added other states or portions of other states and it now applies to nine states and several additional counties.

The coverage formula and preclearance requirement have been reauthorized over the years, but the coverage formula has not changed.

The 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 12-96, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, held Section 4’s formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions. The provisions of Section 5 only apply to those jurisdictions singled out by Section 4.

“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically,” Roberts wrote. “The tests and devices that blocked access to the ballot have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.”

“Striking down an Act of Congress ‘is the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform.’ We do not do so lightly,” he continued. “That is why, in 2009, we took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act when asked to do so, and instead resolved the case then before us on statutory grounds. But in issuing that decision, we expressed our broader con¬cerns about the constitutionality of the Act. Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare §4(b) unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion in which he explained that he would find Section 5 unconstitutional as well. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored a dissent, joined by Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. She wrote, “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”

The justices also handed down:
•    Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 12-399, which held assuming for the sake of argument that the biological father is a “parent” under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, neither Section 1912(f) nor (d) bars the termination of his parental rights; and
•    Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, 11-1447, which held the government’s demand for property from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan requirements even when it denies the permit.

The Supreme Court will meet for the last time this term at 10 a.m. Wednesday to hand down decisions, which likely will include the two cases addressing same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act: Hollingsworth v. Perry, 12-144, and United States v. Windsor, 12-307.

The other case expected to be handed down is Sekhar v. United States, 12-357, which asks whether the recommendation of an attorney who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, is tangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under 18 U.S.C. Section 1951 and Section 875(d).

 

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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