Supreme Court Voter Suppression

No More Pre-Clearance

After today’s ruling at the Supreme Court on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, certain states will no longer be required to seek pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before they implement sweeping legislation which only has one purpose — to suppress voters. Or, more specifically, suppress minority voters.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act establishes pre-clearance itself, but Section 4 establishes which states are covered, and it has been invalidated.

In real terms this means that individual laws in the affected areas will have to be challenged on the basis that they are racially discriminatory after they’ve already been passed. Currently, the Department of Justice conducts its own assessment of each law before it can be passed.

Today’s ruling primarily affects, but is not limited to, the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. It will also affect a number of counties and townships outside of those states, a list of which you can find here.

The Supreme Court majority ruling called on Congress to amend the law after they struck down Section 4, but let’s be real — today’s House of Representative, which is under the guiding hand of John Boehner and Eric Cantor and populated by the Crazy Caucus, is not going to amend the law to create a new list of states that should be affected. They won’t even pass a farm bill that isn’t revolting.

And the majority ruling already is bearing fruit. Here’s immediate reaction from the Attorney General of Texas.

Between now and 2016, it will be open season on voting rights. And with fears of being overwhelmed by immigrants and changing demographics running high, expect former Confederate states to come down hard while they’re no longer required to seek approval from the Department of Justice.

The NY Times has more.

  • nicole

    “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [VRA,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

    Aside from the obvious lamentable vote to disenfranchise millions, this court evidently feels little more than contempt for Congress, and took it upon themselves to invalidate Section 4 despite the overwhelming vote by Congress in 2006 to retain the law as is.

    This has to be one of the worst decisions any SCOTUS has ever made.

    • muselet

      Charlie Pierce:

      A brief historical interlude.

      From today’s Day Of Jubilee, Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding:

      “Shelby County contends that the preclearance requirement, even without regard to its disparate coverage, is now unconstitutional. Its arguments have a good deal of force. In the covered jurisdictions, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minoritycandidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

      From a previous Day Of Jubilee, back in 1896:

      We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

      — Majority opinion, Plessy v. Ferguson, Chief Justice Henry Brown, presiding.

      Steve Benen also points out that there don’t seem to be any specific grounds on which the Supremes found the VRA unconstitutional.

      So yeah, really bad decision.


      • Guest

        One of the worst ever, IMO.

      • nicole

        Alo, do you think that this decision will stand? Unfortunately, I do think it will. At least until we lose 1 or 2 of the wingnuts on the court.

        So sad.

        • muselet

          This is GrafZeppelin’s bailiwick far more than mine, Graf being a lawyer and me not so much. That said, my layman’s opinion is that we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future.

          I don’t see the current Supreme Court, at least the five conservatives, even considering reversing themselves no matter what abuses are committed in the absence of the Voting Rights Act. And even if a couple of them resign/retire/drop dead of stupidity/get abducted by aliens, stare decisis is a powerful check on judges who don’t have an ideological ax to grind.

          The current Congress can’t agree on whether water is wet. A future Congress with more sane people in it could attempt to rewrite Section 4 of the VRA, but since Mr Chief Justice Roberts didn’t trouble himself to explain why the formula used in §4 is unconstitutional, it would be the legislative equivalent of a snipe hunt.

          I wish I could be more optimistic.


    • stacib23

      Remember when we thought Citizen’s United was the worse they could do? Ha, they showed us, huh?

  • trgahan

    I can’t see how this is more than a short term victory for conservatives.

    Voter suppression laws seem to only increase progressive voter turnout. The states that rush to pass laws will look bad both nationally and internationally. Voter’s rights groups and media are going to have laser focus on those places on the next election.
    So today conservatives can smile and relishing their victory over “the other;” however openly disenfranchising large segments of a country’s population never turns out well in the long run.

    • Victor_the_Crab

      Well, all they need is a short term victory to enable themselves enough time to enact laws that will be to their benefit in the long run.

  • blackdaug

    Apropos of nothing, except maybe the current makeup of our supreme court, the 2010 elections that have damaged this country more than we can even calculate, and ….other current events: I would like to just leave this here:

  • ChrisAndersen

    At the risk of sparking some negative feedback: can anyone explain to me why it is unreasonable to suggest that the formula for determining which states have to apply for pre-clearance is not, in fact, out of date?

    • i_a_c

      My cop-out response is that this isn’t for the Supreme Court to decide. The Court is not supposed to decide cases on whether or not it agrees with Congressional finding of fact. The Constitutionality under the Fifteenth Amendment could not be more clear IMO.

      My substantive response is… well, I’ll defer to Justice Ginsberg’s dissent (minor edits for readability).

      –In 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter
      registration system, “which was initially enacted in
      1892 to disenfranchise Black voters,” and for that
      reason, was struck down by a federal court in 1987.

      –Following the 2000 census, the City of Albany,
      Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ
      found to be “designed with the purpose to limit and
      retrogress the increased black voting strength . . .
      in the city as a whole.”

      –In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member
      Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi,
      abruptly canceled the town’s election after “an
      unprecedented number” of African-American can­
      didates announced they were running for office.
      DOJ required an election, and the town elected its
      first black mayor and three black aldermen.

      –In 2006, this Court found that Texas’ attempt to re­
      draw a congressional district to reduce the strength
      of Latino voters bore “the mark of intentional dis­
      crimination that could give rise to an equal protec­
      tion violation,” and ordered the district redrawn in
      compliance with the VRA. League of United Latin
      American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U. S. 399, 440
      (2006). In response, Texas sought to undermine
      this Court’s order by curtailing early voting in the
      district, but was blocked by an action to enforce the
      §5 preclearance requirement.

      –In 2003, after African-Americans won a majority of
      the seats on the school board for the first time in
      history, Charleston County, South Carolina, proposed

      an at-large voting mechanism for the board.
      The proposal, made without consulting any of the
      African-American members of the school board,
      was found to be an “‘exact replica’” of an earlier
      voting scheme that, a federal court had determined,
      violated the VRA. DOJ invoked §5 to block the proposal.

      –In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to de­
      lay the election in a majority-black district by two
      years, leaving that district without representation
      on the city council while the neighboring majority­
      white district would have three representatives.

      DOJ blocked the proposal.
      The county then sought to move a polling place
      from a predominantly black neighborhood in the
      city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly
      white neighborhood outside city limits.

      –In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prose­
      cute two black students after they announced their
      intention to run for office. The county then at­
      tempted to reduce the availability of early voting in
      that election at polling places near a historically
      black university.

      –In 1990, Dallas County, Alabama, whose county
      seat is the City of Selma, sought to purge its voter
      rolls of many black voters. DOJ rejected the purge
      as discriminatory, noting that it would have disquali­
      fied many citizens from voting “simply because
      they failed to pick up or return a voter update
      form, when there was no valid requirement that
      they do so.”

      These examples, and scores more like them, fill the
      pages of the legislative record. The evidence was indeed
      sufficient to support Congress’ conclusion that “racial
      discrimination in voting in covered jurisdictions [remained]
      serious and pervasive.”

      Congress further received evidence indicating that
      formal requests of the kind set out above represented only
      the tip of the iceberg. There was what one commentator
      described as an “avalanche of case studies of voting rights
      violations in the covered jurisdictions,” ranging from
      “outright intimidation and violence against minority
      voters” to “more subtle forms of voting rights depriva­tions.”
      This evidence gave Congress ever more reason to conclude

      that the time had not yet come for relaxed vigilance against

      the scourge of race discrimination in voting.

      • blackdaug

        Thats it! Because over the last 40 years the same states (and a few more) keep trying to put a new face on old Jim Crow.
        Voter I.D. sounds a lot better than “Poll tax” or “literacy test”…but accomplishes the same goal. It fixes a problem (voter fraud) that doesn’t exist and a problem that does (black people voting) for republicans.

        • i_a_c

          Yep. There are reams of examples. But the Fab Five didn’t like them, so they invented a standard out of thin air.

          • blackdaug

            I haven’t read the opinion…but “Dead ender Tony” has been telegraphing this in interviews for years. Outdated! Problem long solved!
            Dead justices spin every time he opens his mouth.

        • ChrisAndersen

          But haven’t several states that are not in the pre-clearance pool also tried to enact those same kind of laws? Wouldn’t it be better to say that, if there is a need for federal pre-clearance, it should be a national standard that applies to all states?

          • i_a_c

            Yes, but the geographical coverage was never a problem for the Court before. Today they suddenly hate it, based on standards they made up. It’s a flimsy, transparent reversal on what was settled for roughly half a century.

          • blackdaug

            Not to mention that no national elections standards law will ever see the light of day with the congress in it’s current configuration. Which is unlikely to change due to gerrymandering. They really were paying attention in 2010.

      • ChrisAndersen


        • Christopher Foxx

          Good question.

      • Christopher Foxx

        They’re not even trying to be un-obvious.

        It’s the Audacity of Racism.

    • D_C_Wilson

      In part, I agree. Voter suppression is no longer confined to the South. If anything, the formula should be expanded to cover the entire country. But the worst, most egregious examples are still in the South, to just ditching Section 5 was the worst possible solution.

  • Scopedog

    This sickens me…and yet, it was on the horizon, especially with the idiocy of the 2010 elections, and going all the way back to 2000.
    Elections do matter, they’ve always mattered. The genesis for this atrocity goes all the way back to election 2000.

  • missliberties


    I am sure white conservatives are trying to hide their obvious joy and glee. A glut of voter suppression efforts will rise, and pursuing a remedy through the courts will take years.

    What is it going to take for people to finally stand up to these white rich Republican assholes who put our country in debt, blame it on Obama, lie constantly, and think that poor people don’t deserve food or a job.

  • i_a_c

    Today’s majority ruling basically ignores Congressional findings of fact and substitutes its own arbitrary standard of voter turnout as the means of determining whether legislative authority under the Fifteenth Amendment is rational. In other words, the decision was not based on Constitutional grounds, but on whether they agreed with the formula prescribed by Congress. This is patently absurd and not the role of the Supreme Court–should the Court be able to overturn a law based on whether or not it likes Congress’ reasoning behind passing the law? Of course not. This is “legislating from the bench.” It is exactly replacing Congressional reasoning with its own.

    • LeShan Jones

      The conservative justices on the court have always been the perfect definition of ‘activist judges’ you often hear other conservatives whining about when talking about moderate judges (the ones who actually do their job rather than bow to an unpopular ideology).

      As I’ve often said, the only part of the Constitution they care about is the NRA’s definition of the second amendment, the rest of the document is too much of an impediment to their forcing their unpopular extremist views on the entire country.

      • blackdaug

        Well, really they are just looking to the intent of the founders.
        The rich, white, slave owning….property holding ..founders.

  • Mike_Norris

    I see an upside in this: Thanks to the five biggest assholes to ever serve on the Supreme Court, (including that loud-mouthed, self-righteous, sanctimonious douche nozzle Samuel Alito), the tide will now turn in 2014. The African American uprising that is coming is going to cause landslide victories in some districts in spite of gerrymandering. You asked for it Republicans–now you are going to get just what you wanted.

    • muselet

      I hope you’re right. I fear you’re not, but I hope you are.


    • Victor_the_Crab

      Not if the Green Teabaggers stay home or vote for a third party, because Obama+Democrats equals or is greater than the evil the Republicans display, decide to nullify any African American voter uprising.

    • D_C_Wilson

      There’s still plenty of time for Greenwald and Hamsher to churn out lots of “worse than Bush!” Screeds to convince liberals to get into another snit.