The Supreme Court announced today that it will consider the constitutionality of a key section of the historic Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states and localities – primarily in the South – with a history of discrimination to receive federal review and approval of any changes they want to make to their voting laws. Lawmakers first adopted the provision in 1965, during the midst of the fierce civil rights battles to help guarantee the voting rights of African-Americans.
Congress reauthorized the law in 2006 with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers; President George W. Bush signed the law. In Shelby County [Alabama] v. Holder, the Court will review a decisionupholding Section 5 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Critics of the law argue that singling out the specific nine states and localities in seven others is outdated and unnecessary now.
Voting rights proponents, though, aggressively used Section 5 this year to challenge a slew of restrictions on voting that Republican-led legislatures enacted in a number of states. Despite a paucity of evidence showing voter fraud to be a serious problem anywhere, supporters of the restrictive measures insisted that they were needed to combat voter impersonation or help election officials do a better job on Election Day.
An ACS Issue Brief by Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt earlier this year, “The New Wave of Election Regulation: Burden without Benefit,” made the case that these restrictive voting laws are “suspect as a matter of constitutional law and fundamentally flawed as a matter of public policy.”