The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced unless Congress comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require federal monitoring of elections. The justices said in 5-4 vote that the law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society. The court did not strike down the advance approval requirement of the law that has been used, mainly in the South, to open up polling places to minority voters in the nearly half century since it was first enacted in 1965. But the justices did say lawmakers must update the formula for determining which parts of the country must seek Washington’s approval, in advance, for election changes. Chief Justice John Roberts said for the conservative majority that Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
A deeply divided Supreme Court has limited use of a key provision in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, in effect invalidating the key enforcement provision that applies to all or parts of 15 states with past history of voter discrimination. The case involved Section 5, which gives federal authorities open-ended oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered areas — which include all or parts of 16 states — must be “pre-cleared” with Washington.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws. Civil rights activists called the decision devastating, and a dissenting justice said it amounted to the “demolition” of the law, widely considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation in American history. The ruling, a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, leaves the future of the law deeply uncertain because it will be up to a sharply divided Congress to redraw the map, if it can agree on one at all. “In practice, in reality, it’s probably the death knell of this provision,” said Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog and a Supreme Court analyst for NBC News. … Roberts cited census data showing that black voter turnout now exceeds white turnout in five of the six states originally covered by the law. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote for the court.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday on the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi and Texas announced they’re ready to move forward with their controversial voter identification laws. Eleven states in the past two years have approved laws that would require voters to show identification at voting booths. But Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required some of those states with a history of voter discrimination to get “precleared” by the federal government before making any changes to voting laws. A separate part of the law known as Section 4 relies on a federal formula to determine which states would be covered under that “preclearance” regime. Requests by Texas and Mississippi for clearance in their voter ID laws were pending with the federal government when the high court struck down the constitutionality of the act’s Section 4 on Tuesday, which also appears to have nullified Section 5.
Black and Hispanic lawmakers are infuriated by Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, calling it a huge setback for the political rights — and influence — of minority voters. These minority lawmakers believe there eventually could be an effort by Republican-controlled legislatures in some Southern states to challenge majority-minority congressional districts, threatening the power of African-Americans, Hispanic and minority lawmakers. Democratic leaders and rank-and-file members also see little chance that the current Congress — with its deep partisan divisions and GOP-controlled House — will do anything to address the high court’s ruling or the concerns of minority groups nationwide. “Today, an activist Supreme Court cynically legislating from the bench in Jim Crow style, engaged in an historic overreach, ignoring their own precedents and disregarding clear and convincing evidence of ongoing discrimination at the polls,” declared Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a fiery dissent to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Tuesday striking down the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that determines which cities and states need to seek approval from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. The provision was designed to focus attention on areas with a history of discrimination. “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA,” Ginsburg wrote. Here are five key excerpts from her dissent:
“When confronting the most constitutionally invidious form of discrimination, and the most fundamental right in our democratic system, Congress’ power to act is at its height.”
“Demand for a record of violations equivalent to the one earlier made would expose Congress to a catch-22. If the statute was working, there would be less evidence of discrimination, so opponents might argue that Congress should not be allowed to renew the statute. In contrast, if the statute was not working, there would be plenty of evidence of discrimination, but scant reason to renew a failed regulatory regime.”
“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.”
Shelby County is booming. The Birmingham suburb is lined with strip malls, subdivisions, and small factories, in what was once sleepy farmland. The population has grown fivefold since 1970 to about 200,000. Change is afoot in this bedroom community, at least on the surface. But the federal government thinks an underlying threat of discrimination remains throughout Alabama and other parts of the country in perhaps the most hard-fought franchise in the Constitution: the right to vote. Competing voices in this county, echoes of decades-long debates over equal access to the polls, now spill out in a 21st century fight, one that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joyce Ladner was a senior at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s when she failed the voter registration literacy test for the third time. But she said she already knew the registrar would not pass her because she was black. And aside from questions like, “How many grains of salt are in a quart jar,” one stood out to her and she knew her answer would not sit well with the registrar. “What are the characteristics of a good citizen?” she read. Her response: “One who follows just laws and disobeys unjust laws.” Ladner later registered under a court order and helped others exercise that same right by working as a field organizer with her sister Dorrie Ladner and South Carolina native Cleveland Sellers in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). On Aug. 6, 1965, after years of tumultuous violence and lives lost, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including ‘‘Israel,’’ ‘’Progressive’’ and ‘‘Occupy’’ were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press. The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday’s revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency’s new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.
A presidential commission set up to address long lines and other problems at the polls will turn to voters, local officials and researchers in crafting a plan to improve election systems. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created by President Barack Obama early this year, will hold a public hearing Friday in Miami followed by hearings in Denver on Aug. 8, Philadelphia, Pa., on Sept. 4 and an unspecified city in Ohio on Sept. 20. The commission held its first public meeting Friday in Washington. “Our goal… is to keep attention very active on this issue,” said Robert Bauer, co-chairman of the commission and general counsel to Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Please help us ferret out the information that we need.” The hearings come as public attention turns to major voting issues.
There is little agreement on anything, even when it all started, but sometime in the last decade the Beaumont Independent School District became a battle zone. Tempers have flared at school board meetings and lawsuits have been filed, as a mostly white group of critics have charged the black-majority school board with enabling corruption, wasteful spending and academic cheating. The school board’s majority denies the charges and says the whites simply cannot tolerate black control. Determined to change the board but aware that the incumbents could not be beaten in the current districts, the critics pursued alternatives. Last December, they pushed for a new election method that was approved, along narrow racial lines, in a citywide referendum. The Justice Department, citing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, objected to the new method and it was dropped.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week stepped into the national fight over voter identification requirements, and the result won’t please those pushing such requirements in at least 30 states. The justices ruled 7-2 Arizona’s requirement of proof of citizenship before voter registration is pre-empted by federal law. The Dallas Morning News, which praised the ruling editorially, said after the decision the high court was bucking a national trend. The newspaper said a number of states have restricted early voting and voter registration drives, while in Florida, “the League of Women Voters was forced to suspend its voter registration efforts after 72 years because a new law greatly impedes its efforts.” The newspaper noted more than 30 states introduced such legislation in 2011 and the ID cards permitted vary widely.
A presidential commission set up to address long lines and other problems at the polls will turn to voters, local officials and researchers in crafting a plan to improve election systems. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created by President Barack Obama early this year, will hold a public hearing Friday in Miami followed by hearings in Denver on Aug. 8, Philadelphia on Sept. 4 and an unspecified city in Ohio on Sept. 20. The commission held its first public meeting Friday in Washington. “Our goal … is to keep attention very active on this issue,” said Robert Bauer, co-chairman of the commission and general counsel to Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Please help us ferret out the information that we need.” The hearings come as public attention turns to major voting issues.
A commission named by President Barack Obama to address the problem of long lines on Election Day had its first meeting last week — but few observers held out hope for major reform. Its first session Friday lasted less than an hour and drew fewer than 50 people. And even its co-chair downplayed expectations. “We will not be providing legislative recommendations,” said Ben Ginsberg, an attorney for the Mitt Romney campaign tapped by Obama to co-chair the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Instead, Ginsberg said the 10-member panel would be devising “best practices” to help states improve the efficiency of elections and registration while reducing wait times at the ballot box.
In a ruling that raises more questions that it resolves, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement for federal voter registration forms. In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., a 7-2 majority determined that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 preempts the state requirement. In the short term, this means that those who register to vote through a federal form only need to sign the form, swearing to be U.S. citizens. Georgia, Kansas and Alabama have proof-of-citizenship requirements identical to Arizona’s, which also seem to be negated now. But in reacting to the court’s decision, detractors of the nullified state requirement said they were still concerned about a back-door option created by the ruling. “What the Supreme Court gave the federal government with one hand, it suggested could soon be taken away with the other,” wrote Richard Hasen, a political science professor from the University of California, Irvine School of Law, in a Daily Beast column.* That’s because the ruling allows Arizona to ask the federal Election Assistance Commission to add proof-of-citizenship as part of the federal registration form; if the commission — which currently has no appointed commissioners — rejected the request, then the state could take that request to court.
In January, the Supreme Court heard the case of an Alabama county that wanted to change the venerable 1965 Voting Rights Act. On behalf of the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that the act has worked well and meets constitutional muster. But swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed skeptical about the Voting Rights Act. “Well, the Marshall Plan was very good, too,” quipped Kennedy. “But times change.” Congress may be about to find out how much times have changed. The Supreme Court is poised to turn over a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, likely kicking it back to Congress, adding another burden for the log-jammed legislature. It’s particularly heavy baggage for Republicans. While Democrats and civil rights groups stand largely united behind the broadest interpretations of the Voting Rights Act, for Republicans it’s a trickier matter. On one hand, they are eager to reach out to minority voters. They eagerly tout their charismatic, high-profile minority officeholders like Sens. Tim Scott or South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. If Congressional Republicans seem unwilling to rebuild the Voting Rights Act should the court curtail it, they risk being seen as indifferent or even hostile to minorities. On the other hand, the party’s Tea Party wing is likely to revolt if the Republican House they elected tries to re-establish what many see as a federal overreach. Already, Cruz has offered an amendment to address the Supreme Court’s decision in an Arizona voting rights case earlier this week that struck down a proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Bracing for an impending Supreme Court decision that could limit the reach of the Voting Rights Act, liberal legal experts and advocates are assessing what to do if the court strikes down a central part of the law. Addressing the annual convention of the liberal lawyers’ group the American Constitution Society, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a pioneer of the civil rights movement, told an audience of more than 1,000 lawyers and law students in Washington, D.C., that as a young activist in the 1960s, he’d chosen to “get in trouble – good trouble, necessary trouble” using civil disobedience and street protests to win the right to vote. Now, Lewis said, “I think it’s time for all of us once again to get in trouble.” Referring to the high court’s imminent decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Lewis said, “We’re at a crossroads. Something’s going to happen, maybe next Monday, maybe next Thursday, the court is going to say something.” Arguing that voting rights were in jeopardy, Lewis said “I think it’s time for all of us once again to get in trouble.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he and two campaign finance watchdog groups would sue the IRS, challenging regulations that allow nonprofit groups to be involved in politics if they’re “primarily” devoted to a social welfare purpose. Van Hollen said he and watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 would sue to clarify an IRS regulation that he said was at odds with the law, which requires certain groups to “exclusively” engage in social welfare to earn nonprofit status. The IRS regulation permitting groups “primarily” engaged in social welfare allows the organizations to participate in an undefined amount of political activity, said the congressman, a leading advocate of campaign finance reform and ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Monday said he would offer an amendment to the Senate immigration bill to counteract a Supreme Court decision striking down state laws requiring voters to prove their citizenship. Cruz’s amendment, which he plans to attach to the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill being debated this week in the Senate, would allow states to require IDs before voters register under the federal “Motor Vehicle” voter registration law. The high court on Monday overturned an Arizona law requiring people to prove their citizenship if they wanted to register through that law. In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled in the case of Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. that state law was trumped by federal law and Arizona could not require voters to provide additional information.
The House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat on Tuesday released the full transcript of a congressional interview that he said “debunks conspiracy theories” about the IRS targeting controversy. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, produced a complete interview transcript in which an IRS manager in Cincinnati said he elevated the first tea party case that led the agency to begin singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny. Cummings released partial transcripts from the manager’s interview last week, prompting warnings from committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) about releasing full interviews.
A Supreme Court decision Monday that struck down an Arizona law requiring people to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote was hailed by voting-rights advocates as a big win. But several legal scholars say the ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, could in fact set back the voting-rights cause in cases to come. As Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University writing inThe Huffington Post, put it, Scalia “may have implanted today’s opinion with a virus that may hamper federal voting protections in the future.” In his opinion, Scalia found that the Constitution’s “Elections Clause” gives Congress the authority to set the “times, places, and manner” for holding congressional elections. As a result, Scalia ruled, Arizona’s law, known as Proposition 200, is pre-empted by the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to accept a federal form that makes people attest under penalty of perjury that they’re citizens, but doesn’t make them show proof. So far so good for voting rights. But Scalia also ruled—and six other justices agreed—that the Elections Clause does not give Congress the power to set voter qualifications.
Advocates of tougher voter registration standards have racked up wins in recent years — voter ID laws have taken hold across the nation, for example. But those who believe that government should make voting as easy as possible just gained a significant victory with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision slapping down an Arizona law that required potential voters to prove their citizenship. In its 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the so-called motor voter law, trumped an Arizona law passed in 2004. The state law demanded that voters produce documentation of their citizenship at the time they registered to vote. The federal law requires those registering in federal elections only to attest to their citizenship. The process is simple enough that people can register by postcard. The high court’s decision on the Arizona law put an extra bounce in the step of officials at civil and voting-rights organizations.
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that requires people to submit proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The vote was 7-2, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the court. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, two members of the court’s conservative wing, dissented. Only a handful of states have similar laws, which the states say are meant to reduce voter fraud, but civil rights groups worried that more states would have followed if the Supreme Court had upheld the Arizona law. Those groups say the Arizona law was an effort to discourage voting by legal immigrants. Groups opposed to the Arizona law said that the court had blocked an attempt at voter suppression. “Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
National: Supreme Court expected to rule soon on constitutionality of Voting Rights Act | Washington Examiner
The Supreme Court is expected by the end of the month to announce its ruling on a case that could end a landmark Civil Rights-era law designed to combat discriminatory voting practices nationwide. All or parts of 16 states, mostly in the South, currently must receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in the way they hold elections. The provision is part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — enacted to stop Jim Crowe-era practices such as literacy tests, poll taxes or other measures designed to keep blacks from voting. But Shelby County, Ala., is challenging the constitutionality of the advance approval, or “preclearance” requirement, saying it no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington because it has made significant progress in combating voter discrimination.
Internal Revenue Service employees in Ohio, who singled out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny, likely did not consider the political implications, an IRS official in Washington has told congressional investigators. Providing additional details about the worst crisis to hit the IRS in years, tax agency official Holly Paz told investigators she was concerned when she learned that IRS employees were singling out groups with “Tea Party” and other key words in their names. Paz is the most senior IRS official to be extensively interviewed by investigators. Ousted acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller was among the top-level Washington officials grilled by Congress in recent weeks. Investigators conducted longer transcribed interviews with IRS employees behind closed doors.
An Internal Revenue Service supervisor in Washington says she was personally involved in scrutinizing some of the earliest applications from tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status, including some requests that languished for more than a year without action. Holly Paz, who until recently was a top deputy in the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status, told congressional investigators she reviewed 20 to 30 applications. Her assertion contradicts initial claims by the agency that a small group of agents working in an office in Cincinnati were solely responsible for mishandling the applications. Paz, however, provided no evidence that senior IRS officials ordered agents to target conservative groups or that anyone in the Obama administration outside the IRS was involved.
The commission President Barack Obama is setting up to address problems with election administration plans to hold one of its first meetings in the city that appeared to be ground zero for excessive delays in the 2012 vote: Miami. The panel will convene at the federal courthouse in Miami on Friday, June 28 to hear testimony from “local, county and state election officials,” as well as “comments by interested members of the public,” according to a notice set to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register. In November, some Miami voters spent more than five hours waiting to case their ballots, according to the Miami Herald. Obama promised action on the subject in his election night victory speech.
A group of Democratic senators is urging President Obama’s election commission to take “strong steps” to ensure that voters are no longer forced to wait hours to cast their ballots, as occurred last November in some areas of the country. “The existence of long lines…defective voting machines, and the lack of staff and adequate resources at polling locations created inexcusable conditions for voters,” Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida said in a letter to the commission’s chairmen sent Tuesday. “Lines created by these conditions are forcing citizens to decide between casting their ballot or caring for a sick child, or earning a paycheck to feed their families. This is a choice that no citizen should have to face.”
Voting-rights advocates hope the Supreme Court won’t rule against Section 5, a key piece of the Voting Rights Act. But while they wait for the decision to be handed down, they’re already strategizing for a post-Section 5 world. “If the Court struck down or weakened Section 5, it would lead to the largest rollback of American democracy since the end of Reconstruction,” Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told reporters Wednesday. Shelby County, Ala., is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5, which allows the U.S. Justice Department to block any proposed election changes made by certain areas with a history of racial discrimination—mostly in the south—if those changes might reduce the voting power of minorities. Many Court observers expect that the ruling, which could come as soon as Thursday, will strike down or significantly water down Section 5.
A U.S. Internal Revenue Service manager, who described himself as a conservative Republican, told congressional investigators that he and a local colleague decided to give conservative groups the extra scrutiny that has prompted weeks of political controversy. In an official interview transcript released on Sunday by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, the manager said he and an underling set aside “Tea Party” and “patriot” groups that had applied for tax-exempt status because the organizations appeared to pose a new precedent that could affect future IRS filings. Cummings, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducting the probe, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the manager’s comments provided evidence that politics was not behind IRS actions that have fueled a month-long furor in Washington.