Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SCOTUS on Voting Rights Act of 1965

A much anticipated decision on Shelby County, AL v. Eric Holder was handed down as the US Supreme Court enters its waning days of the 2012 Docket Session.

The high court's sessions run from October through June, usually ending prior to Independence Day.

The case questioned portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required some states and counties to seek federal approval before any new voting legislation or electoral law could be implemented.

The opinion was an expected 5-4 majority along "party lines".

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the majority opinion with Justice Thomas filing a concurring opinion. Justice Ginsberg was tasked with delivering the dissenting opinion.

The Supreme Court Ruling reversed lower court rulings and declared Section 4 of the VRA as unconstitutional. In doing so, they reversed an earlier Supreme Court decision based on that decision's very wording. The previous case produced an opinion that held that the data used to support the law's necessity was temporal, and required regular review for applicability. In other words, that previous decision held that the law would be constitutional only as a temporary measure. Once it was no longer necessary to support the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, it would become unconstitutional. The court decided that time has come.

Held: Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to pre-clearance. Pp. 9–25.
(a) In Northwest Austin, this Court noted that the Voting Rights Act “imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs” and concluded that “a departure from the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty requires a showing that a statute’s disparate geographic coverage is sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” 557 U. S., at 203. These basic principles guide review of the question presented here. Pp. 9–17
(b) Section 4’s formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions. Pp. 17–25.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts stated:

     Striking down an Act of Congress “is the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform.” Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U. S. 142, 148 (1927) (Holmes, J., concurring). We do not do so lightly. 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 concerns 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 pre-clearance.

     Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nation-wide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions still exist justifying such an “extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.” Presley, 502 U. S., at 500–501. 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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Conversely, Justice Ginsberg, in her dissenting opinion stated:
After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was the judgment of Congress that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.” 2006 Reauthorization §2(b)(7), 120 Stat. 577. That determination of the body empowered to enforce the Civil War Amendments “by appropriate legis­lation” merits this Court’s utmost respect. In my judg­ment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.
* * *
For the reasons stated, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Thomas concurred with the majority, but filed his own opinion. In that opinion, he stated a desire to see Section 5 of the VRA also declared unconstitutional.

Section 4 of the VRA covers federal oversight of select states and counties. The bill, and section 4, do seem to violate the 14th Amendment's requirement of fair and equal treatment under the law among the several states. It singles out and targets select areas.

Some History of the Voting Rights Act

The VRA of '65 was passed in an effort to reduce an inequity in voter registration evaluated within racial/ethnic demographic categories. Since, the disparity has greatly declined.

The bill was passed then executed during the Johnson administration. President Johnson originally opposed the Civil Rights Act and the VRA when they were first proposed by conservative Republicans. After entering office as the President, Johnson reversed his support for both. Allegedly, Johnson changed his support for purely political purposes. He did so in an effort to chain and enslave minority voters to the Democrat Party by creating a sense of dependence upon government assistance. The VRA was designed to facilitate those dependent voters in registering and voting for the party that was keeping them from self-sufficiency.

Conservatives supported the bill on the grounds that it promoted protections of individual rights and privileges. However, since 1965, that disparity has much declined, and many of the targeted states and counties have shifted towards more a conservative majority that supports and defends individual rights and responsibilities over government intrusions and subsidies.

In recent times, the law that once had bipartisan support has been used as a political tool that granted the US Department of Justice under an appointed Attorney General the power to violate the 10th and 14th Amendments and take over a sovereign state's constitutional rights to determine its own electoral criteria.

Collateral Effects of Court Decision

Section 4 not only grants the federal government, particularly the executive branch, tyrannical dominion over states. It also outlaws any metric or requirement to understand the US Constitution or local electoral laws in determining voter registration eligibility.

While "Voter ID" laws are still a point of contention among the people, in the several states, and in the Federal Courts, the decision can pave the way for some voter integrity laws.

Poll taxes are still illegal and immoral. However, requiring a voter to be responsible and understand the basic tenets and history of the US Constitution is not. The striking of Section 4 may lead to some states requiring such testing as part of the registration process, at least when using the state-level registration forms. Previous Supreme Court Opinions declared that federal registration forms fall under federal laws that preempt state registration laws and forms. So, a state may require a test or proof of identity (and citizenship) when employing a state-level form. Such requirements will not be imposed on anybody registering when applying for a drivers; license or when using the federal form.