One side effect of the Supreme Court’s decision to stop enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is clear: a flood of new lawsuits that have already begun. The ruling all but guarantees that voting rights advocates will pivot toward filing lawsuits relying on a separate piece of the law, Section 2, to challenge procedures which might impede voters. Nine states, mostly in the South, and other jurisdictions in places from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Shannon County, S.D., had been covered by Section 5 of the law which required election officials to get either the Justice Department or a federal judge to pre-approve changes in voting procedures. Section 2, on the other hand, bans voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups — such as speakers of Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, or Navajo — identified in the VRA. In its decision Tuesday in a case involving Shelby County, Ala., the high court essentially made Section 5 unenforceable for now. It found that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered under the VRA was flawed, and Congress seems unlikely to write a new formula before the 2014 elections. Texas Secretary of State John Steen immediately announced that his state’s voter photo identification law — which had been passed by the Texas legislature in 2011, but then barred by a federal judge using section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — will now be in effect.
NAACP National Field Director Rev. Charles White speaks to reporters after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law designed to protect minority voters, at the court’s building, June 25, 2013. Steen was sued Wednesday by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, who represents a Latino-majority district in the Dallas area, and other plaintiffs who claimed that the photo ID law will cause candidates to incur new costs in running their campaigns; make it harder to mobilize voters; and in some cases, bar people from voting, for example, if the name on their driver’s license doesn’t match the name on their voter registration certificate.
The plaintiffs contend that the Texas voter ID violates Section 2 of the VRA. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in the majority opinion in the Shelby County case, “Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”