North Texas Daily

Voting Act ruled unconstitutional

Voting Act ruled unconstitutional

Photo courtesy AP

Voting Act ruled unconstitutional
June 26
19:26 2013

Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer

While state Sen. Wendy Davis and the Defense of Marriage Act are the legal talk of the day, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision Tuesday that could affect millions of Texans’ ability to vote.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the court ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. This section allowed the federal government to designate states and counties that would need approval to make changes to their procedure for elections.

“It’s called preclearance,” said associate political science professor Paul Collins. “If you’re a state or a locality that’s covered under the Voting Rights Act, you need to get permission from the Department of Justice for any policy change regarding voting.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, expressing the majority opinion, said the formula for selecting which states were covered by Section 4 was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

Since 2000, the Department of Justice has struck down 74 changes to election procedure.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed the minority opinion from the bench, a rarity reserved for nationally significant rulings.

“True, conditions in the South have impressively improved since passage of the Voting Rights Act. Congress noted this improvement and found the VRA was the driving force behind it,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg noted multiple recent examples of voting changes that were found discriminatory and blocked, two of which involved Texas.

Collins said the Supreme Court found the formula used to select states for Section 4 was outdated. While the law still stands, Congress needs to sort out how to select states it applies to.

“The Court said Congress had to re-write the formula, but it’s not clear Congress has the votes to do that,” Collins said. “If Congress doesn’t do anything, the Voting Rights Act doesn’t have any teeth. Really, there’s a strong possibility this is the end of the Voting Rights Act as we know it”

Texas was not originally included in Section 4, but the state was added in the 70s. Attorney general Gregory Abbott said Texas would start passing its voter ID law, which was blocked by the Department of Justice over concerns about disenfranchising poor minority voters, “immediately.”

The law requires government-issued photo IDs to vote. Collins said the law has already been passed in Texas, but was blocked by the Voting Rights Act. With preclearance suspended, the law will go into effect.

Collins said individuals could still sue the state if they feel their rights have been violated. This was the recourse for states that didn’t fall under preclearance.

UNT students like Interdisciplinary senior Rachel Stansbury were unsure about the change. Stansbury said it depends on how concrete the formula for singling out states was.

“They would just need to have very concrete evidence, because then you’re not just saying, ‘Texas, you’re obviously racist,'” she said.

Mathematics doctoral student Marco Lopez was concerned about state governments’ newfound freedom.

“I don’t know a lot about the subject, but I know there have been cases,” Lopez said, referring to Florida’s Voter ID law that was struck down last year. “There are a lot of these charges against measures because they might be politically motivated. I would be concerned about states trying to take those measures.”

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