On its last day of the term, the Supreme Court delivered two more blows to the Voting Rights Act. Two days ago, the court ruled that the law’s key provision, which requires several states to pre-clear voting changes with the government, was invalid. Then on Thursday, it vacated two voter discrimination cases in Texas that could have long-term repercussions in the battle for voting rights. Here’s what happened: Texas had appealed two rulings by the D.C. federal court — one blocking a set of 2011 redistricting maps, and another blocking its voter ID law — that found both policies were discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent both cases back to the federal court for “further consideration” in light of its decision to strike down the VRA’s pre-clearance formula. That means the federal court will most likely have to reverse both decisions, given that pre-clearance no longer exists.
The Supreme Court’s move wasn’t unexpected, several legal experts said, given its decision on Tuesday. But it marks the beginning of the fallout from the landmark ruling — and legal experts on voting rights say this will make it more difficult to argue future voter discrimination lawsuits in Texas.
“It absolutely makes it harder,” said Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that litigates cases on election law nationwide. “Everything that’s happened this week has been a setback.”
Both of the D.C. rulings were striking because of the forceful language the judges used in their rulings. The D.C. court found the legislators deliberately sought to draw maps that would dilute the minority vote without looking like they were discriminating in order to “pass muster for the Voting Rights Act.” And the voter ID law, the court said, “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”