Supreme Court rules Section 4 of Voting Rights Act unconstitutional

Missouri residents will not be affected by this decision.

In a 5-4 decision on June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Section 4 of the 48-year-old Voting Rights Act, unconstitutional.

This decision was made in the case Shelby County v. Holder, in which Shelby County, Ala. filed suit in federal court for Section 5 of the VRA to be declared unconstitutional.

Section 5 of the Act requires certain jurisdictions to submit voting changes they plan to implement for federal review before implementation. The coverage formula, to determine which jurisdictions the fifth section pertained to, is spelled out in Section 4. The Court did not declare Section 5 unconstitutional, only Section 4. The federal review of voting changes will be put on hold until a new coverage formula is created.

MU Political Science professor Marvin Overby believes the Court was right in their decision.

“I think there is little doubt but that the country has made significant progress enfranchising minority voters and that the political position of ethnic and racial minorities is far better than it was when the VRA was adopted in 1965," Overby said. "Given that process and since the pre-clearance provisions under the VRA were not intended to be permanent, the Court's decision to require legislative reconsideration of the section 4 triggering formula seems reasonable."

According to Overby, Southern states affected by this decision have improved the political status of their African-American populations.

“Virginia has elected a black governor; Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state in the Union; levels of black voting participation in the South generally outpace levels in non-covered parts of the country and often exceed white turnout rates,” Overby said.

Though some are in agreement with the Court’s decision, others believe it will create problems for minorities that wish to vote.

“The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation's most important and effective civil rights laws,” said Lawyers’ Committee Chief Counsel Jon Greenbaum. “Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. Today's decision is a blow to democracy.”

Professor Overby believes it worth bearing in mind that, “the Shelby County decision really involves only pre-clearance. Section 2 of the VRA, which covers the entire country prohibits disfranchising "devices" such as literacy tests, was not affected.”

Missouri residents will not be affected by this decision because there are no jurisdictions in Missouri that were included in Section 4. However, out-of-state students may begin to see changes in their hometowns and the way they vote.

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