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SCOTUS upholds Voting Rights Act

For now, anyway.

The Supreme Court ruled narrowly today in a challenge to the landmark Voting Rights Act, siding with a small Texas governing authority but sidestepping the larger constitutional issue.

The court, with only one justice in dissent, avoided the major questions raised over the federal government’s most powerful tool to prevent discriminatory voting changes since the mid-1960s.

The law requires all or parts of 16 states, mainly in the South, with a history of discrimination in voting to get approval in advance of making changes in the way elections are conducted.

The court said that the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 in Austin, Texas, can apply to opt out of the advance approval requirement, reversing a lower federal court that found it could not. The district would appear to meet the requirements to bail out, although the court did not pass judgment today on that point.

Five months after Barack Obama took office as the nation’s first African-American president, Chief Justice John Roberts said the justices decided not to determine whether dramatic civil rights gains means the advance approval requirement is no longer necessary. That larger issue, Roberts said, “is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.”

Debo Adegbile, the NAACP Legal Defense and Edicational Fund lawyer who argued for the preservation of the law at the high court, said, “The fact is, the case was filed to tear the heart out of the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act and that effort failed today.”

Good news. As Rick Hasen explains, this issue is sure to come up again soon, so the victory may be short-lived. But even if it is, the timing is fortunate. As the Lone Star Project puts it in an email about the ruling:

As a result, major changes to Texas election law, specifically a Voter Photo ID requirement and the 2011 redistricting plans, will be subject to review and approval by the Obama Justice Department.

The indications, from Governor Perry and everyone I’ve spoken to so far, is that the upcoming special session to reauthorize the state agencies that were left in limbo after sine die was going to be short and to the point. This ruling makes it even more likely that we’ve seen the last of voter ID legislation for this cycle. Adam B has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    I think what is shocking quite a few is that it was Thomas rather than Scalia who dissented.

  2. […] Murray follows up an earlier post on the recent Supreme Court decision that narrowly upheld the Voting Right Act and considers the redistricting implications for Texas in […]