Supreme Court makes historic voting rights law harder to enforce

By Bill Mears, CNN

June 25, 2013

Washington (CNN) — A federal civil rights law that has stood for generations will be tougher to enforce after Tuesday’s ruling by the Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 vote, justices limited the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Congress passed during the height of America’s volatile civil rights movement.

The court struck down a part of the law that uses a federal formula to determine which states and counties must undergo U.S. oversight of their voting procedures to prevent voter discrimination.

The ruling will make it tougher for the Obama administration to enforce the law, at least until Congress changes it.

Describing the ruling as a “setback,” President Obama said in a statement that his “administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Voting discrimination, he said, still exists, and the decision “upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair.” And he called on Congress to “pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”

The ruling said it’s now up to Congress to revise the law to meet constitutional scrutiny.

“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 the current conditions,” said Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the court’s decision for the majority.

After Tuesday’s ruling, Attorney General Eric Holder shared examples of how the law prevented “discriminatory voting changes.” Specifically, he mentioned how it blocked Texas from adopting a new congressional redistricting map that would have “discriminated against Latino voters.”

Holder also said the Voting Rights Act changed how South Carolina will implement a law requiring photo identification before being allowed to vote. Those changes, he said, protected black voters who would have been “disproportionately” affected.


Leaders at “ground zero” for the case — the state of Alabama and its Shelby County — claimed victory.

“It reflects how conditions have improved since 1965,” Gov. Robert Bentley said in a prepared statement. County Attorney Frank Ellis cheered the idea that places will no longer be “punished by the federal government for conditions that existed over 40 years ago.”

On the other side, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Laughlin McDonald issued a statement saying the ruling poses a “real challenge to Americans’ fundamental right to vote.”

NAACP President Ben Jealous called the decision “outrageous,” because it makes minority voters “more vulnerable to the flood of attacks we have seen in recent years.”

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