In 2006, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was reauthorized for 25 years by a massive majority of both the House and the Senate. In fact, the Senate reauthorized the bill unanimously by a vote of 98 to 0. In June 2013, the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder found that Congressional reauthorization by mass majority was not enough to uphold the 48-year-old formula in Section 4(b) of the VRA. Section 4(b) of the VRA is the formula by which states that townships or counties are placed under the jurisdiction and require the consent of the Department of Justice regarding any changes to electoral law. This is called “preclearance,” a power defined in the VRA’s subsequent Section 5. While progressives and liberals across the United States are now up-in-arms over this decision, the truth is that the Supreme Court acted with due deference towards the issue of institutional racism and voting discrimination. Chief Justice Roberts was very clear regarding this issue. His opinion states, “At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” As Roberts states in the majority opinion, the major problem is that, “the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.” The Supreme Court also agrees that Section 2 of the 15th Amendment provides Congress with the authority to legislate against such discrimination. That is the crux of the problem: Congress.
The Shelby County decision is clear about the next steps the U.S. government must take to ensure continued enforcement of the VRA. While not imploring or mandating that Congress do anything (which the Supreme Court has no power to do), Roberts states that Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
Congress in 2006 had no problem reauthorizing the VRA with its 1965 formula intact, but Congress in 2013 is different from Congress in 2006.
VRA reauthorization occurred before the 2006 elections when Democrats took back Congress from the Republicans. Where the Democratic minority had been relatively docile and willing to compromise to do the business of the country in 2006, we now find a Republican Senate minority and House majority entirely unwilling to compromise for the good of the United States. Recall the 98 to 0 Senate vote on VRA reauthorization; that vote included senators from every state affected by Section 4(b) and preclearance. Not one of them voted no, and many of them advocated for reauthorization based on the struggles faced by their constituents during the Civil Rights Movement.
Full Article: The Voting Rights Act: 2006 vs. 2013 : The Daily Collegian.