Supreme Court strikes down key provision of Voting Rights Act

scales-of-justice2A 5-4 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court handed down today has struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court, split along ideological lines, ruled that Congress had used obsolete reasoning in requiring several Southern states to get federal approval for voting rules changes affecting blacks and other minorities.

The decision effectively guts a key voting rights victory from the 1960s civil rights movement and puts the onus on a divided Congress to come up with new legislation to enact voting rights protections for minorities.

“The Supreme Court dealt what could be a death blow to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act today when it found that the formula used to select jurisdictions required to submit changes in voting laws to preclearance by the Justice Department is unconstitutional. By doing so, the Court has blocked the single most effective instrument of fairness in place since 1965,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, in a statement today.

Gastanaga joined a chorus of progressives urging Congress to take quick action to restore the now-eroded voting rights protections.

“What this decision really means is that the ACLU and other voting rights advocates will have to redouble our efforts to ensure that this fundamental right is, in fact and in law, equally available to all,” Gastanaga said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, for his part, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the Supreme Court ruling, and that he will work with his Senate colleagues to “move quickly to put in place a fair process that ensures our elections are open to all.”

“It is critical that we have an electoral system that is open, fair and not overly burdensome. This is particularly important given our history of unfairly restricting access to the ballot in Virginia,” Warner said.


Update: June 25, 1:51 p.m.

More response from Virginia political leaders.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine:
“The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the validity of the Voting Rights Act preclearance requirement but specify that Congress must grapple anew with the appropriate geographic application of the technique raises serious concerns, particularly with regard to how voting rights will be protected in the interim in places where discrimination still exists.  As a former member of state and local elected bodies subject to preclearance rules, I have generally found the process straightforward and, given the importance of voting, not onerous. I  look forward to working with my Congressional colleagues to determine how we can continue to rigorously protect the voting rights of all. In the meantime, I would advocate that jurisdictions continue to submit voting changes to the Department of Justice for preclearance as a sign to their own constituents that they are committed to ensuring equal voting rights.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell:
“Today’s ruling maintains the portions of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit discriminatory practices and procedures. As Governor, I will ensure that the Commonwealth remains committed to protecting the rights of its citizens and ensuring that every Virginian’s vote counts.  Virginia will continue to faithfully comply with the Constitution and the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act.  I will work with the Attorney General to continue to conduct a thorough review of proposed changes to voting laws to ensure compliance with the Constitution and the VRA.”

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:
“Virginia is committed to fair elections, fair voting districts, and ensuring everyone’s vote counts.  Regardless of the court’s decision, legal mechanisms remain in place to safeguard the vote of Virginia’s citizens.  My role as attorney general is to ensure that those safeguards are followed and that Virginia’s voting procedures continue to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”

Democratic Attorney General nominee Mark Herring:
“The Supreme Court’s decision today is deeply disappointing. It is a step backward, and an affront to the men and women who fought for the Voting Rights Act and the countless number of Virginians whose voting rights have been protected by this legislation. While Virginia and our nation have made progress since 1965 toward protecting every individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, I agree with our Governor that Virginia has not outgrown the Voting Rights Act and that Congress should move to rectify this decision. I believe we must remain vigilant in protecting against any effort that disenfranchises voters and as Attorney General I will always stand up to protect Virginians’ right to vote.”

Speaker William J. Howell:
“The General Assembly has been vigilant in drawing voting districts that are consistent with the law, which is why our district lines cleared President Obama’s Justice Department scrutiny in the latest rounds of redistricting.  The members of the General Assembly simply will not tolerate redistricting that sanctions discrimination.”

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr.:
“Voter discrimination has no place in the Commonwealth and will not be tolerated by members of the Senate of Virginia.  As every Virginia voter who believes a voting law or redistricting line to be discriminatory retains the ability to bring a court challenge, protections against voter discrimination remain intact despite the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act.”

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