Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down core elements of the Voting Rights Act, critics of Republican-led efforts to change voting laws in key states are scoring a new round of victories in courts across the country. The wave of favorable decisions, both proponents and opponents say, illustrates a new approach voting rights advocates are taking in court. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a part of the Voting Rights Act laying out criteria under which states could be required to seek approval prior to changing voting laws was outdated. The decision effectively rendered moot Section 5, which required states fitting that criteria to seek approval from the Justice Department or the D.C. District Court prior to changing election laws. In effect, voting rights advocates worried, the Supreme Court had shifted the burden of proof from the states, which previously had to show their proposed changes would not discriminate against minority voters, to the voters themselves, who would now have to show their rights were infringed upon.
But recent decisions from federal courts show voting rights advocates are taking a new approach to litigation over voting rights cases — and it’s an approach that seems to be working.
In just the past two weeks, state and federal district and circuit court judges have struck down voter identification laws and other measures changing voting rules in North Carolina, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas. Earlier this year, a federal district court also ruled against a plan to curtail early voting in Ohio.
Each case challenged existing law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prevents states from implementing practices or procedures meant to deny or abridge someone’s right to vote on the basis of race.