Bracing for an impending Supreme Court decision that could limit the reach of the Voting Rights Act, liberal legal experts and advocates are assessing what to do if the court strikes down a central part of the law. Addressing the annual convention of the liberal lawyers’ group the American Constitution Society, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a pioneer of the civil rights movement, told an audience of more than 1,000 lawyers and law students in Washington, D.C., that as a young activist in the 1960s, he’d chosen to “get in trouble – good trouble, necessary trouble” using civil disobedience and street protests to win the right to vote. Now, Lewis said, “I think it’s time for all of us once again to get in trouble.” Referring to the high court’s imminent decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Lewis said, “We’re at a crossroads. Something’s going to happen, maybe next Monday, maybe next Thursday, the court is going to say something.” Arguing that voting rights were in jeopardy, Lewis said “I think it’s time for all of us once again to get in trouble.”
In the Voting Rights Act case before the high court, Shelby County, Ala., is challenging the formula under which only some states, mostly in the South, are targeted and must get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington for any attempt to change voting procedures.
“What’s unique about Section 5 is that we’ve never (before) had a federal statute that singles out particular parts of the country for unique control by the federal government,” said New York University law professor Richard Pildes, a voting rights expert and a legal adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign.
Shelby County’s lawyers argue that the coverage formula, which relies on election data from the 1960s and 1970s to determine which places Section 5 applies to, is outdated.
If the court does strike down Section 5, “the most likely way they’ll do it is to go after the coverage formula,” Steven Shapiro, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the American Constitution Society meeting. “If the court goes down that road – and I hope they do not – the important takeaway is that’s not the end of the game. That just puts it all back on Congress’s hands.”