Fights over the laws governing voting rights are nothing new – but 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for court decisions that will determine whether millions of Americans will face new and unnecessary barriers at the polls. Since the disputed 2000 elections, states have increasingly moved to change voting rules, and litigation on these issues has more than doubled. In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder to strike down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had long required states with a history of discrimination to “pre-clear” proposed voting rule changes with the U.S. Department of Justice. Republican-led states have since redoubled efforts to restrict voting – and civil rights groups and the Justice Department have responded by filing new challenges. In 2014, the courts will weigh in, revealing what role, if any, U.S. judges will play in checking moves to make voting harder.
The federal government’s ability to stop potentially discriminatory voting changes before implementation has fundamentally changed since the Supreme Court chose to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. After 1965, states and localities with a history of racial discrimination had to demonstrate that changes in voting laws would not make minority voters worse off at the polls. But the June 2013 Supreme Court decision said the law’s formula for determining which jurisdictions needed “pre-clearance” was no longer constitutional. Although the Court left open the possibility that Congress could enact a new formula, partisan gridlock in Washington and the Republican Party’s evident investment in new restrictions make Congressional action highly unlikely.
After pre-clearance was struck down, previously covered states wasted no time in enforcing previously suspended voting restrictions and enacting new ones. Texas immediately put in place voter identification rules that the Department of Justice had blocked for discriminatory impact. These rules tailor in obviously disparate ways the kinds of identification that can be used for voting. Student identification cards, for instance, are not allowed, but concealed weapons permits are just fine.
Full Article: Eyes On The Courts: 2014 Will Be Pivotal For Voting Rights.