This past June, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in “arguably one of the most successful acts passed by Congress in any area,” said Richard Reuben, the James Lewis Parks Professor of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law, at a recent event on Shelby County v. Holder hosted by the ACS University of Missouri School of Law Student Chapter.
The affected provision of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4(b), contains the coverage formula for determining which jurisdictions are subject to a preclearance requirement before they can amend their voting laws. Section 5 details the logistics of the requirement, which was designed to target states and local governments with a history of discriminatory practices. By declaring Section 4(b) unconstitutional under the claim that the formula was based on obsolete data, the Court essentially nullified Section 5. States that were once required to have a federal court or the Department of Justice sign off on changes to voter law may now proceed unchecked.
Appeals to Section 2 result from policies or practices in voting areas with a discriminatory purpose or result. Sadly, explained Ms. Fernandes, these after-the-fact remedies often take a long time, are very expensive and result in complicated litigation. Violations of the Fifteenth Amendment may also be remedied by preclearance requirements set forth in Section 3(c). Yet intentional discrimination must be a predicate in these cases, she said, and courts do not often find said discrimination.
In a post-Shelby world, Ms. Fernandes identified the need for a new, data-driven preclearance formula; the expansion of federal courts’ ability to institute preclearance requirements; and public notice and disclosure of voting law changes.
by Gerald Torres, Marc and Beth Goldberg Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Cornell Law School; Bryant Smith Chair, University of Texas Law School
A recent Huffington Post article by Alex Palombo accuses Texas of discriminating against women in the exercise of the franchise because it has imposed new rules for voting which require all Texans to…
“…show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66 percent of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male votes in any significant way. Suddenly 34 percent of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID while 99 percent of men are home free.”
The law also imposes requirements of original documents for name change and a minimum fee of $20 to obtain acceptable copies of the documents. These requirements, in conjunction with registration deadlines, will leave many women unable to vote. Palombo views this as an assault on the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote, suggesting that “if the Tea Party gets their way, the only people left to vote will be wealthy white men.”
Is this column another example of fear mongering from the Left? Rather than a regressive return to the days when women had no independent political existence, let alone a right to vote, Texas’ new laws surely represent the strongest possible statement supporting women’s independent personhood. Governor Perry and his legislative confederates cannot have intended to keep women from voting or to impose new, oppressive barriers to women’s participation in the political process, right? That would be illegal.
by Paul M. Smith, Partner, Jenner & Block. Mr. Smith is a longtime Supreme Court practitioner and a member of the ACS Board.
As the lawyer who argued the constitutional challenge to the Indiana Voter ID law in the Supreme Court in 2008, I was both fascinated and pleased to hear that Judge Richard Posner – the author of the Seventh Circuit majority opinionaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board – has now publicly stated that he was wrong. It is refreshing, if not unprecedented, for a jurist to admit error on such a major case.
I was a little less pleased to see that he attempted to excuse his error by blaming the parties for not providing sufficient information to the court. As he put it in an interview quoted in the New York Times, “We weren’t given the information that would enable that balance to be struck between preventing fraud and protecting voters’ rights.” Really? The information provided was enough for the late Judge Terence Evans, dissenting from Judge Posner’s decision, to say quite accurately: “Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by folks believed to skew Democratic.”
That insight about the purpose of the law was supported by this information, all of which was provided to Judge Posner and the Seventh Circuit:
There had never been a single known incident of in-person voter impersonation fraud in the history of Indiana and there have been precious few nationally – yet the Indiana law targeted only in-person voting.
The law was passed immediately after Republicans took complete control of the legislature and governorship of the State of Indiana.
Every Republican legislator supported the law, while every Democratic legislator opposed it.
But what about the effects of the law? Well, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, the primary supporter of the bill, himself stated that there are certain “groups of voters for whom compliance with [the Voter ID law] may be difficult” because they are “registered voters who do not possess photo identification; who may have difficulty understanding what the new law requires of them; or who do not have the means necessary obtain photo identification.” As examples he mentioned “elderly voters, indigent voters, voters with disabilities, first-time voters, [and] re-enfranchised ex-felons.” Moreover, the district court had conservatively estimated that there were 43,000 voting-age Indianans without a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, and that nearly three-quarters of them were in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis. In other words, the persons most likely to be affected were poor and minority residents in the state’s largest city, who tended to vote Democratic and lived in a city that was trending Democratic.
The Supreme Court and the State of Texas wasted little time last week in revealing the full implications of the Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. Between the Court’s rulings and the State’s reactions, we will soon see fundamental changes to Texas’s election law that will almost surely have a retrogressive effect on the right to vote of racial minorities in that state.
We all know that last week the Court in Shelby County gutted the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act by striking the coverage formula for preclearance. The ruling lifted the preclearance requirement for all previously covered jurisdictions, including Texas, and rendered preclearance dormant unless and until Congress can rewrite a coverage formula.
But less widely known is this: Just two days after the Court issued the Shelby County ruling, it issued orders vacating two federal court decisions denying preclearance to two proposed changes to Texas’s election law -- a new and stringent voter-ID requirement, and redistricting maps for Texas’s congressional and state legislative districts. That same day, the Texas Attorney General announced that those proposed changes would go into effect -- that after Shelby County these changes “need not . . . go through the lengthy and costly federal preclearance process because of Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court . . . .”
by Gilda R. Daniels, Associate Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law. Daniels is a former Deputy Chief in the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section. For more on Daniels' work, visit her website.
Four years ago, the Supreme Court dared Congress to change the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions would be subject to federal oversight of voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Congress did nothing. In the recent Shelby County decision, the Court indicated that it was forced to act stating, “[Congress’s] failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare §4(b) unconstitutional.” Further, the Court seems to deny its culpability, positing that the “nation has changed” and the formula does not address “current conditions.” While it acknowledges that the Voting Rights Act is responsible in large part for increasing voter registration for black voters and the number of minority elected officials, it essentially says that enough is enough. It gives the impression that it views Section 5 as medicine for a disease that is no longer at epidemic proportions, but refuses to allow a targeted and effective remedy to currently infected areas. Thus, a majority of the justices, without doubt, believe that the “current conditions” of fewer disparities in voter registration, for example, merit the removal of all life sustaining legislation.
We’ve seen this before. In 1883, the Supreme Court found that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which sought to make former slaves full and equal citizens, was unconstitutional. This marked a turning point in becoming a nation where all men were truly created equal. In less than 20 years after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the last African American left Congress after states implemented barriers to the franchise, such as literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and felon disenfranchisement laws. It would take seventy years before an African American would return to Congress from a former Confederate state and almost a century from the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment before Congress would provide the nation with tools to combat massive and violent disenfranchisement in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Have conditions changed since 1965? Absolutely! No more segregated lunch counters, water fountains, Bull Connor in the courthouse door. Does discrimination in voting continue to exist? Absolutely! The Court admits that fact, but decides that a state’s right to be treated equally instead of a citizen’s right to equal treatment is supreme.