It has been a busy few days at the Supreme Court. People have been riveted by the Court’s dramatic striking down of a key portion of the Voting Rights Act (Tuesday) and by its equally dramatic rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and declining to reach the merits in the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 (Wednesday).
While there is much to say about all of these cases, here I want to remark on the very different views of the democratic process on display. To begin with, the Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder.
Quick summary: Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain “covered jurisdictions” to get permission (known as preclearance) from federal authorities before making any changes to their voting procedures. Section 4 of the Act provides the coverage formula by which these jurisdictions, mostly but not exclusively in the South, are identified. The rationale behind these provisions is to prevent jurisdictions from using facially neutral changes to impede minorities’ political participation. Most recently, for example, Section 5 preclearance has prevented several states from imposing voter ID requirements—requirements that would apply to everyone but that would have the effect of preventing disproportionate numbers of minorities from voting. Texas has already announced its intention to move forward with such requirements now that this part of the VRA has been struck down. (more…)