South Carolina and other areas with histories of discriminatory voting practices no longer need federal approval to change their voting laws — at least for now. That oversight ended Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ruling in the case of an Alabama county that sued the U.S. attorney general in 2010, arguing voting laws meant to prevent discrimination are outdated. In its 5-4 decision, the court struck down a formula that determined whether states or other jurisdictions should be required to get federal approval before making changes to their voting laws — based, in part, on their discrimination in the 1960s and ’70s.
“There is no denying … the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion. “At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the states, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements.”
The court did not decide the constitutionality of the remaining parts of the law, including a section that requires that states with proven histories of voter discrimination — as defined under the formula — must seek preclearance. But “in the absence of a formula, no one is covered,” said University of South Carolina law professor Derek Black.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson was among several S.C. Republican leaders declaring the ruling a victory for protecting voting rights “without requiring a different formula for states wishing to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter-ID laws similar to South Carolina’s.”
The formula, Wilson said, unfairly singled out states for oversight, regardless of gains made since the civil rights movement.