Supreme Court Leaves Key Provision of Voting Rights Act Largely Intact

Categories: Judiciary, News

In an 8-1 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court left a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act intact.

“In today’s near unanimous decision, the Supreme Court recognized the continuing relevance of the Voting Rights Act in its entirety and Congress’ role in protecting the right to vote for all Americans,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires certain states and localities to submit changes in voting to the Department of Justice or a federal court to ensure the changes do not have a discriminatory purpose or effect on minority voting power. However, a provision of Section 5 allows a “political subdivision” to be released from the preclearance requirements if certain rigorous conditions are met.

Northwest Austin Municipality District made two arguments to the Court: that it should be entitled to a bailout; and in the alternative, that the preclearance provision was unconstitutional because circumstances that once warranted preclearance in Texas have long been remedied. Though covered by the VRA, entities like the utility district are not eligible for bailouts because they do not fit the definition of a “political subdivision” specified in the law.

Various civil rights groups filed legal briefs showing that voter discrimination still persists in Texas and in other jurisdictions covered by Section 5 and argued for upholding the constitutionality of the preclearance provision. The Supreme Court allowed the utility district and others like it to file a bailout suit, but it declined to address the issue of Section 5’s constitutionality.

“The utility district brought this case to tear out the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Today, it failed. The Voting Rights Act remains one of Congress’s greatest legacies,” said Debo P. Adegbile, director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.