Justice Antonin Scalia’s death is certain to have an impact on the political debate in this year’s elections, but it could also have a far more direct effect on the elections themselves. There are numerous challenges to Republican-led congressional redistricting plans and new voter ID laws likely to come under Supreme Court scrutiny. Scalia had been a reliable vote for allowing such redistricting plans and voting rules. A new justice nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate would almost certainly shift the court in the direction of stricter voting rights enforcement and a greater willingness to take account of race when considering redistricting and election law matters. But the more likely scenario in the near term — deadlock over Scalia’s replacement — could have a similar effect by leaving the court less likely to come up with the five votes required to set precedents on such matters and to issue emergency stays in challenges to last-minute voter ID and election-law changes coming up from lower courts.
“Justice Scalia wasn’t really a friend of voting rights. … He was the one saying the Voting Rights Act was a racial entitlement,” said Katherine Culliton-González of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group.
The issue isn’t a theoretical or remote one. One-person-one-vote cases from Arizona and Texas were argued in December and are awaiting decision by the high court. The justices also have a Virginia redistricting case set to be argued next month — before what now looks all but certain to be an eight-member court.
The most urgent matter is a pending emergency application to halt a court-ordered redo of redistricting in North Carolina. The stay request from the state’s Republican governor and other officials came to the justices last Wednesday, just three days before Scalia died. Those seeking to stick with the challenged map are hoping the Supreme Court will act before a Friday deadline that a federal appeals court set for the Legislature to redraw the lines because race was improperly used as a factor.
Full Article: Scalia’s absence could shape election rules.