A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with a narrow issue in a redistricting case from Texas suggests that the nation’s top court is ready to reconsider a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation. In the Jan. 20 decision, which tossed a Texas electoral map back to a lower court, the Supreme Court made a reference to “serious constitutional questions” raised by the act, which was passed in 1965. Legal experts have identified an Alabama case working its way through the courts as a vehicle through which the Supreme Court could eventually take another look at the act.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that states with a history of voting rights violations, typically those in the South, get approval from either the Justice Department or a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia before changing their election rules. Several states have challenged Section 5 over the years on the grounds that it interferes with their right to govern elections under the powers reserved to them by the 10th Amendment. To date, the Supreme Court has rejected those challenges.
The constitutionality of the voting rights laws were not at issue in the Texas case, as Chief Justice John Roberts made clear in oral arguments on Jan. 9. But the court’s decision on Jan. 20 seemed to signal it was ready to consider the issue. In that decision, which was unanimous, the Supreme Court referred back to language it used in a 2009 case, where it found that “intrusions on state sovereignty” brought by Section 5 raised “serious constitutional questions.”
Full Article: Civil rights law on Supreme Court’s mind.