The week was dominated by the announcement of several Supreme Court decisions, one of which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, effectively eliminating the ‘pre-clearance’ provisions of Section 5. Response to the decisions was swift, with several States announcing decisions to implement voter ID requirements within hours of the ruling. While lawmakers began considering steps to be take to revive Section 5 protections, the prospect for Congressional action is bleak. In addition to voter ID, the release from pre-clearance made the use of lever machines in New York City municipal elections this Fall almost certain and set the stage for a new redistricting battle in Texas. President Obama nominated two new commissioners for the Federal Election Commission and his commission on election reform held its first public hearing in Miami. Testimony presented at the hearing is available here. Protests against the Malaysian Election Commission continued as it was revealed that food coloring had been used instead of indelible ink in the May elections.
On its last day of the term, the Supreme Court delivered two more blows to the Voting Rights Act. Two days ago, the court ruled that the law’s key provision, which requires several states to pre-clear voting changes with the government, was invalid. Then on Thursday, it vacated two voter discrimination cases in Texas that could have long-term repercussions in the battle for voting rights. Here’s what happened: Texas had appealed two rulings by the D.C. federal court — one blocking a set of 2011 redistricting maps, and another blocking its voter ID law — that found both policies were discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent both cases back to the federal court for “further consideration” in light of its decision to strike down the VRA’s pre-clearance formula. That means the federal court will most likely have to reverse both decisions, given that pre-clearance no longer exists.
Editorials: Conservative Supreme Court Justices Hypocritical on Voting Rights | US News and World Report
Most reaction to this week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act will center on whether the court was right that the law (or at least its Section 5) is outdated. But under the approach long advocated by the court’s majority that very argument is itself outdated. The conservative vision of an unchanging Constitution – that means for all time what the Framers meant when they wrote it – has triumphed on the court, in which case, it doesn’t matter whether times have changed and the VRA is “outdated.” If it was constitutional when adopted, it should still be constitutional today. In short, the VRA’s invalidation by those who trumpet conservative values is really about just one thing: hypocrisy. For years, conservatives have argued for a theory of constitutional interpretation called “originalism.” Originalism asserts that a constitution must mean what its framers originally intended it to mean – at least until that constitution is formally changed through the required mechanism of amendment. Liberals, in contrast, tend to argue that a constitution must be a “living document” that changes and grows with the times.
In a vacuum, perhaps, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court would be correct. Maybe, just maybe, five decades of the Voting Rights Act could undo two centuries of brutal disenfranchisement against blacks and other minorities in a large swath of the country. It’s much easier today for African Americans to cast ballots in nine “covered” states – including Virginia – than it was when the law took effect in 1965. Of course, we don’t live in a vacuum in America. Race still affects many facets of society, from housing to schools to political representation. That’s why the high court’s sharply divided ruling Tuesday, which gutted one of the nation’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation, was so obtuse – and so disappointing.
A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a crucial component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that Congress has not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out certain states for federal oversight. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the other conservative members of the court in the majority. The court did not strike down the law itself or the provision that calls for special scrutiny of states with a history of discrimination. But it said Congress must come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to the requirements. Proponents of the law, which protects minority voting rights, called the ruling a death knell. It will be almost impossible for a Congress bitterly divided along partisan lines to come up with such an agreement, they said. There could be immediate consequences from the court’s ruling. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state would move forward with a voter-ID law that had been stopped by a panel of federal judges and would carry out redistricting changes that had been mired in court battles.
Voting Blogs: The SCOTUS Majority Is Missing Exactly What the VRA Sought to Remedy | The Monkey Cage
On Wednesday the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined which jurisdictions received increased federal oversight of their election procedures. Prior to the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder (summary here), states and counties with low voter turnout or registration during the 1960s, and a history of discriminatory election practices, needed to receive “preclearance” prior to changing any laws or regulations dealing with the electoral process. As the court warned in Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder (2009), use of a coverage formula based on election results from 40 years ago “raise[s] serious constitutional questions,” culminating in the present ruling’s call for Congress to “fashion a coverage formula grounded in current conditions” rather than “40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”
Top Alabama officials say voters apparently will have to present photo identification at the polls in the next election. Gov. Robert Bentley, Secretary of State Beth Chapman and Attorney General Luther Strange said the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday throwing out part of the federal Voting Rights Act means the state does not have to submit for preclearance a new law requiring voters to show photo identification. Strange said the voter identification law will be implemented immediately. Democratic state Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery said fears the photo ID law will be used to intimidate blacks and keep some elderly people from being able to vote. He said it’s the kind of thing that should be reviewed by the Justice Department. “This is a perfect example of why we need pre-clearance,” Holmes said. “The civil rights community had a bad day yesterday.” The governor, however, said he believes pre-clearance is no longer needed.
A lawsuit challenging Kansas’ law requiring voters to present a picture identification when casting ballots Wednesday was submitted to Shawnee County District Court on behalf of two Osage County men who were blocked last year from having their votes counted. Wichita attorney Jim Lawing filed the case for retirees Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner, both of Overbrook, to contest constitutionality of the voting mandate included in the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, which was written by Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The suit names Kobach as the lone defendant. Hamner and Spry, who didn’t have a government-issued identity card with a photograph proving they were Kansans in good standing, voted with provisional ballots in November 2012. Their ballots weren’t counted because neither subsequently provided sufficient proof of their identity.
In recent years, support has surfaced for run-off elections in Maine. Under such a system, the winning candidate would be required to receive a majority of the votes rather than a plurality. For instance, in three out of the past five gubernatorial elections, the winner was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote due to the increased presence of third-party and independent candidates. In 2010, candidates Libby Mitchell and Eliot Cutler split the moderate and liberal vote down the middle, resulting in a win, with 38 percent of the vote, by the ultra-conservative Paul LePage. This session a number of bills were submitted that would have implemented a form of run-off elections. Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship) submitted a bill that would have required another election to be held if no candidate received over 50 percent of the vote. Under that two-round system, the two candidates with the most votes would be on the ballot for a second election. The Maine Secretary of State’s office testified neither for nor against the bill, but stated that holding a second election would pose a significant difficulty for the state and municipalities as the schedule for tabulation and recording the official vote tally would leave insufficient time.
New Hampshire: Legislature okays changes to voter ID law despite opposition from conservatives | Concord Monitor
Compromise legislation to reform New Hampshire’s year-old voter ID law passed the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House yesterday, as a last-ditch effort by conservative Republicans to block the bill fell short. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who indicated she will sign it into law. “The governor continues to believe that the voter identification law enacted by the previous Legislature was misguided and should be fully repealed, but she appreciates that the compromise reached by the Legislature will save local communities the burden of costs for cameras, prevent long lines at the polls and alleviate confusion about permissible forms of identification,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.