For months, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has insisted in speeches that the U.S. Department of Justice will remain aggressive in protecting the right to vote no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the latest challenge of the Voting Rights Act. Holder’s words will be put to a test after the high court on June 25 struck down a key anti-discrimination provision in federal voting rights law. Last week, Holder said the “decision represents a serious setback for voting rights — and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country.” Holder only hinted at just how seriously the justices’ ruling in Shelby County v. Holder would wound voting rights enforcement — an effort the attorney general has repeatedly highlighted as among his proudest achievements as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Former government lawyers say the ruling will force the Civil Rights Division into less efficient enforcement paths, potentially causing a resources crisis that could greatly reduce the government’s effectiveness.
“It will have massive implications for enforcement,” said Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Gregory Craig, who was White House counsel to President Obama in 2009 when the Supreme Court last pondered the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. “It would require an enormous increase in resources for the Civil Rights Division to bring the kind of cases the attorney general was talking about.”
The Supreme Court in its 5-4 decision voided Section 4 of the act, which contains the formula used to determine when a state or local jurisdiction warrants special scrutiny before it can implement electoral changes. That analysis was the predicate to the Justice Department’s Section 5 authority to preview proposed changes in suspect jurisdictions, called preclearance. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Section 4 was “unconstitutional in light of current conditions.” In other words, the chief justice said, times have changed.
Without a fix from Congress, the decision means the Civil Rights Division loses that preclearance function, which is “an incredibly efficient way to deal with discrimination,” said William Yeomans, a former acting assistant attorney general and now a professor at American University Washington College of Law.
Instead of covered jurisdictions bringing voting changes to the Justice Department for approval, those same jurisdictions can go ahead and make the changes, said Yeomans, who spent more than two decades litigating and supervising civil rights cases.
Immediately following the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has clashed with the Justice Department over electoral matters, announced plans to move forward with electoral changes the federal government had blocked under the Voting Rights Act. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott declared. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
Full Article: DOJ Denounces Voting Rights Act Decision.