Six years ago today, the Supreme Court significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act. In its June 25, 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the Court struck down with a 5-4 majority a provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined which jurisdictions with a history of discrimination had to “pre-clear” changes to their election rules with the federal government prior to implementing them. By striking down this so-called coverage formula, the Court rendered the preclearance provision a dead letter.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the coverage formula was no longer “grounded in current conditions” because the “country has changed” since the formula was first adopted in 1965. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in dissent, observed that the country has changed precisely because of the effectiveness of the preclearance regime. She wrote that trashing preclearance was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
So who was right? Consider the following facts. The day the Shelby decision was handed down, Texas officials announced their intention to implement a strict voter ID law that had previously been denied preclearance – a law that the federal courts eventually found to be discriminatory, following years of litigation. Soon after, Alabama and Mississippi followed suit with their own photo ID laws, and North Carolina passed an omnibus election law that included restrictions such as strict photo ID and cutbacks to early voting. A federal court later struck down the North Carolina law, finding that it had been passed with a discriminatory purpose. So far this year, five states have passed (or are poised to pass) significant laws restricting access to the vote – three of which were previously subject to preclearance. And these laws are just a part of the post-Shelby story, which includes suspect poll closures, a significant uptick in voter purges, and other forms of voter suppression.
See full story at Brennan Center.