BRADENTON – The Supreme Court struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, effectively ending the practice in which some states (including parts of Florida) must receive pre-clearance from the federal government before changing voting laws or redistricting.
In a 5 to 4 vote, the five conservative-leaning justices held together, while the four liberal-leaning justices dissented.
The majority contended that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. The section includes a formula that determines which states must receive pre-clearances, making section 5, which sets the requirement itself, obsolete.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Chief Justice Roberts who authored the majority opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. She was joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan.
“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”
The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and updated several times by Congress until 1975, was unconstitutional.
Pre-clearance was set by state, county or municipality based on a history of racial discrimination issues. In Florida, Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties required pre-clearance.
Voting rights activists have continually pointed to Florida as a state in which wide-spread and systematic voter suppression based on race, still exists. From the 2000 election, in which knowingly-flawed felon scrub list processes were employed to the more recent voter suppression laws, critics have argued that legislators of the majority Republican Party have sought to deliberately reduce the turnout of African-Americans, who tend to vote Democrat by wide margins.
"It should be disturbing to every Florida voter that the Supreme Court seems not to have noticed what happened in Florida over the last two years, where we have battled the legislature's partisan manipulation of our voting rights," said Deirdre Macnab, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a statement released after the decision. "Today's decision undermines 40 years of fundamental protections against discriminatory voting laws and the League urges Congress to act quickly to restore the Voting Rights Act."
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