Five years after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has confirmed predictions that the ruling would hobble enforcement of that landmark law. In addition to prohibiting racial discrimination in voting nationwide, the Voting Rights Act requires states and localities with a history of discrimination —most of them in the South —to “pre-clear” changes in their election procedures with the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. In its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, however, the court declared unconstitutional the formula Congress had established to determine which states would have to submit to pre-clearance, effectively shutting pre-clearance down.
Writing for himself and four other conservatives, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that the formula was obsolete because “things have changed dramatically” since the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965. It was a disastrous decision.
The term ‘judicial activism’ is thrown around, but if a decision ever deserved it, Shelby County did.
The term “judicial activism” is thrown around, but if a decision ever deserved it, Shelby County did. The Constitution authorizes Congress to enforce the provisions of the 15th Amendment —which guarantees the right to vote without regard to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” —by enacting “appropriate legislation.” In 2006 Congress voted to extend the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula for an additional 25 years in legislation signed by President George W. Bush. Despite that, the court threw it out.