Supreme Court Limits Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act

Categories: Judiciary, News

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday to limit the scope of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), saying that a key provision that keeps minority votes from being diluted during redistricting doesn’t apply in districts where a minority group makes up less than 50 percent of the voting age population. 

Section 2 of the VRA says that minority voters must have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. In areas with a significant minority population, this prohibits governments from dispersing minority voters into multiple districts, so that there aren’t enough minority voters in any given district to influence the outcome of that district’s election.

At issue in the case, Bartlett v. Strickland, was a North Carolina redistricting plan in which the state legislature tried to preserve minority voting power by redrawing lines to create a district that would contain Black voters as well as non-Black voters who would likely vote for the Blacks’ candidate of choice., However, the Court said that the minority dilution provision doesn’t apply since the newly-created district would be less than 40 percent Black.

While the Court held that the Voting Rights Act does not require the drawing of such districts, called “coalition districts,” it did observe that states and localities were free to create and maintain them. However, the redistricting plan in North Carolina didn’t meet a state requirement that congressional districts follow county lines — a requirement which would be trumped by a federal requirement under the VRA.

However, the Court did recognize that voting discrimination remains a part of our political reality in this country.  The Court found that “racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history.  Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.”

The ruling could have implications for the next round of redistricting that will follow the completion and release of the 2010 Census.  Lawyers and voting rights advocates will be studying the ruling carefully to ensure that proper guidance is made available to state legislatures to ensure protection of minority voting rights during redistricting.