The chances of Congress acting to fix the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was weakened by the Supreme Court last summer, appear slimmer by the week. But lately, it looks like the landmark civil rights law might end up being strengthened in a different way: by being used. Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Wisconsin struck down the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it violates the VRA’s Section 2, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The state has said it will appeal the ruling. Two days later, voting rights advocates filed suit against Ohio’s recent cuts to early voting, again alleging a violation of Section 2. “I think it’s exactly what the federal courts should be doing,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, referring to the Wisconsin ruling, and the potential for a similar verdict in Ohio. “When partisan politicians go too far to restrict the right to vote in an effort to serve their own ends, courts aren’t likely to look on that kindly.”
In its Shelby County v. Holder decision last June, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the VRA, which had required certain areas of the country with a history of race discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making changes to their voting systems. That left Section 2 as the law’s most important remaining provision.
Because Section 2 doesn’t stop election changes before they happen, it’s not as strong a tool as Section 5. And it hasn’t been used much in the past to stop things like voter ID laws and early voting cuts. But since Shelby, Section 2 has suddenly been pressed into service: In addition to the Wisconsin and Ohio cases, the Justice Department has used it to challenge Texas’s strict voter ID law passed in 2012 and North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law passed last year.
Advocates say court victories don’t obviate the need for Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. But aside from expanding access to the vote for minorities in key swing states, wins could help demonstrate that the law can still be effective in stopping the GOP’s most far-reaching voting restrictions.
Full Article: Is the Voting Rights Act making a comeback? | MSNBC.