In a landmark, divided ruling, the Supreme Court voted to gut a major amendment in the Voting Rights Act. Section five, or the “Preclearance Provision” forces certain state and local governments to seek permission from the federal government before they can change their election laws. It singled out localities with a history of racial discrimination in the South.
The Court ruled in a split 5-4 decision in favor of officials from Shelby County, Ala., that the Voting Rights Act, now more than four decades old, was based off antiquated data that does not reflect any progress in racial equality. The decision invalidates the provision temporarily — with the Supreme Court advising Congress to draft an updated provision — reflecting advances in social equality.
"Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions," writes Justice Roberts for the majority. "It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day."
Currently, the law forbids nine states from changing their voting laws without approval from the Justice Department of a federal court: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
"I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today," said President Barack Obama. “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent."
Another issue is whether Section five of the Voting Rights Act is a bill of attainder: a law that singles out an individual or group for punishment without a trial. Article I, Section 9 of the constitution forbids any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.
However, the rest of the law was kept in tact. It prohibits poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures historically used to prevent blacks from voting. Section two allows the Justice Department to intervene if any state or district is suspected to be discriminating. The Supreme Court has still, however, upheld the federal prerogative to discriminate among states and hold them to different standards.