On Nov. 9, three days after the nation elected Barack Obama for his second term in office, the Supreme Court announced that it will review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain state and local governments to seek federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.
The 1965 ruling was set in place to protect minority voters from discrimination at the polls in states and select counties that have a history of racial discrimination.
The review was prompted by a challenge from Shelby County, Ala., filed two years ago.
The court’s decision to accept this challenge creates the second major case this term involving race. Last month, the justices also heard a challenge to the University of Texas admissions policy that could redefine or eliminate the use of affirmative action in higher-education admissions, according to the Wall Street Journal. These recent actions by the Supreme Court have sparked an ensuing commentary on the present state of race relations in America.
Debo Adegbile, acting president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund stated, “This is a term in which many core pillars of civil rights and pathways to opportunity hang in the balance,” according to the Washington Post.
According to the Examiner, “The pre-clearance provision…has been used 2,400 times since 1982 to prevent state and local rule changes from going into effect. The Supreme Court saw no reason to intervene in any of those 2,400 times.”
In this past election, the pre-approval legislation has intervened in several cases in Texas, Florida and South Carolina. In Texas and South Carolina, the courts prevented the laws from going forward, citing that doing so would put an undue burden on the rights of many citizens to vote.”
Redistricting is the redrawing of congressional district lines following a census and Texas falls under the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Election Day exit polls showed a record voter turnout of minority groups. “Exit polls across the country indicated that Obama won the votes of more than 70 percent of Hispanics and more than 90 percent of blacks. In Alabama, however, the exit polls showed Obama won about only 15 percent of the state’s white voters. In neighboring Mississippi, the numbers were even smaller, at 10 percent, the surveys found,” reported the Washington Post.
The plaintiffs argue that laws like the Voting Rights Act are outdated. According to the Washington Post, Edward Blum, director of Project on Fair Representation, said, “the America that elected and re-elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965.” The Project on Fair Representation funds the challenges to the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.
“Congress unwisely reauthorized a bill that is stuck in a Jim Crow-era time warp. It is unconstitutional,” Blum stated.
However, the precedent argued that the current legislation is a necessity based on the area’s historical evidence of discrimination.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court arguments in both the Affirmative Action and Voting Rights Act cases are likely to be heard early next year. Decisions are expected by the end of June.