Shelby County v. Holder: SCOTUS Rules on Voting Rights Act

Today the Supreme Court handed down their second highly anticipated decision of this session. After the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was sent back to the Fifth Circuit yesterday, today’s case involving the Voting Rights Act was ruled in 5-4 decision. The majority was Chief Justice Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito. But what are the consequences of this ruling? Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog offered the following “plain English” description:

Today’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, in Plain English: Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Dennison published an in-depth analysis of the decision. The full decision, including the opinions of the majority and the dissent, can be found here.

Next up: United States v. Windsor which will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).