In January, the Supreme Court heard the case of an Alabama county that wanted to change the venerable 1965 Voting Rights Act. On behalf of the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that the act has worked well and meets constitutional muster. But swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed skeptical about the Voting Rights Act. “Well, the Marshall Plan was very good, too,” quipped Kennedy. “But times change.” Congress may be about to find out how much times have changed. The Supreme Court is poised to turn over a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, likely kicking it back to Congress, adding another burden for the log-jammed legislature. It’s particularly heavy baggage for Republicans. While Democrats and civil rights groups stand largely united behind the broadest interpretations of the Voting Rights Act, for Republicans it’s a trickier matter. On one hand, they are eager to reach out to minority voters. They eagerly tout their charismatic, high-profile minority officeholders like Sens. Tim Scott or South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. If Congressional Republicans seem unwilling to rebuild the Voting Rights Act should the court curtail it, they risk being seen as indifferent or even hostile to minorities. On the other hand, the party’s Tea Party wing is likely to revolt if the Republican House they elected tries to re-establish what many see as a federal overreach. Already, Cruz has offered an amendment to address the Supreme Court’s decision in an Arizona voting rights case earlier this week that struck down a proof-of-citizenship requirement.
At issue before the Supreme Court in the Alabama case is a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions (mostly in the South but not entirely) to get federal approval (either from the Justice Department or a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court) before it can change any voting procedure. That can be something as big as redistricting a state’s Congressional lines or a town moving a polling place to a different location. The idea behind the law was to keep elected officials in the Jim Crow South from implementing ruses to keep blacks from voting.
This preclearance procedure is contained in what’s called Section 5 of the act and it faced court challenges immediately when it was enacted. In 1965, the Warren Court upheld emergency provision and said that it had to be regularly renewed. The first period was for five years but Congress has extended the renewals. The 2006 renewal of the Section 5 was for 25 years and passed the House by almost 400 votes and the Senate by 98-0–a testament to the law’s enduring popularity and effectiveness.
But the formula for determining who gets covered–a combination of voting practices and patterns– hasn’t changed since the 1960s. It applies to nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — plus counties and municipalities in other states. Indeed, some states and cities have fallen under Section 5’s sway even though they weren’t legally segregated, including such as certain parts of New York City and towns in New Hampshire.
Full Article: The GOP Dilemma Over the Voting Rights Act – Yahoo! News.