While Congress and the White House squabble over sequestration cuts and gun control, the Supreme Court quietly heard what may be a landmark voting rights case, Shelby County, Alabama vs. Eric Holder.
Shelby County, Ala. is challenging Congress’s authority to reauthorize a key provision of LBJ’s 1965 Voting Rights Act for 25 years. Section 5 of the act requires Department of Justice approval before certain states or counties within states make any changes to their voting laws.
The affected 16 states all had a history of limiting the voting rights of minorities.
Shelby County is one of those counties, and they allege that in the almost 50 years since the law was enacted, discrimination is a thing of the past and getting prior approval from the DOJ is unnecessarily cumbersome.
Making what is essentially a Tenth Amendment argument, Shelby County wrote in their brief that, “absent extraordinary constitutional violations, like on-going egregious discrimination by certain state and local governments, Congress must respect the equal sovereignty of the states.”
Plating counterpoint to this is Justice Department’s assertion that although we’ve come a long way since the days of the Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and literacy tests have been replaced with voter ID laws and redistricting efforts.
Project-21 is a national leadership network of black conservatives and has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case that addressed this very issue.
“The Obama Justice Department uses this same authority to prevent or delay enactment of clearly constitutional measures such as state-level voter ID laws opposed by liberal politicians,” according to a National Center for Public Policy Research press release.
The Washington Times noted that this isn’t the first time this issue has appeared before the high court.
In 2009, the Northwest Austin (Texas) Municipal Utility District No. 1 argued it should be allowed to “bailout” of the advance approval. In an 8-1 opinion, the court declined to rule on the constitutionality of preclearance, saying the small utility didn’t meet the requirements of a “political subdivision.”
At the hearing itself, the vote seemed to swing in favor of striking down section 5 of the law.
“I think it is very likely attributable to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement,” Antonin Scalia, a generally safe conservative vote said. “It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor bristled at Scalia’s comments, asking a lawyer arguing against the Voting Rights Act, “Do you think Section 5 was voted for because it was a racial entitlement” and “Do you think racial discrimination has ended?”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s traditional swing vote, seemed to say section 5 had outlived its relevance.
“The Marshall Plan was very good, too — the Northwest Ordinance, the Morrill Act — but times change,” Kennedy said.
The court would strike a serious blow to the Obama administration’s campaign against voter ID laws if it strikes down Section 5’s reauthorization.
Read more at The Washington Times.