June 22, 2009 Supreme Court Narrows Part of Voting Rights Act In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court has struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Issue: Among other things, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the "VRA") requires 16 states, mainly in the South, with a history of discrimination in voting, to seek preclearance of any changes in their voting procedures (i.e., changing of voting/polling places, laws affecting voting). A small Texas water District alleged that the VRA is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 in Austin, Texas, can opt out of the preclearance requirement. A lower federal court that found it could not. The Effect: The states, cities, counties, etc., that the preclearance requirement applied to can now seek to "opt out" of that provision -- meaning -- they would no longer have to get Justice Department review of their voting changes, before they make changes. What Justice Roberts Said: Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the Court. He said, “When it was first passed, unconstitutional discrimination was rampant and the ‘registration of voting-age whites ran roughly 50 percentage points or more ahead’ of black registration in many covered states,” he noted, quoting from an earlier ruling involving the Voting Rights Act. "Things have changed in the South. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "Past success alone, however, is not adequate justification to retain the preclearance requirements." The Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs." (In other words, the fact that the VRA has been successful in preventing states, cities, counties, etc., from enacting discriminatory voting practices -- is not a good reason to make those states, cities, counties, etc., have to continue to comply with that part of the law). What About Uncle Clarence: Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented Monday, stating that he thought it inappropriate to sidestep the constitutional question in Northwest Austin Municipal District Number One v. Holder, No. 08-322, and that he thinks Section 5 is no longer constitutional. Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only African-American, supported Monday's decision but said he would have gone farther and declared Section 5 to be unconstitutional. What Could Happen Now: Those states which must comply with the VRA, can save time -- they can move forward with making voting changes, and not submit their proposed changes to the Justice Department for review and decision Those states which must comply with the VRA can save money -- they would not have to pay the expense of having a submission prepared to be sent to the Justice Department Those states which must now comply with the VRA can move forward with changes in their voting procedures that they feel are necessary. HOWEVER: The changes can take effect; and, if they are discriminatory, those who believe the changes discriminate against them or cause them more hardship than others, will have to FILE A LAWSUIT and proceed through the courts to redress the adverse change -- AS OPPOSED TO PRESENT LAW -- where the voting change could NOT TAKE EFFECT unless the Justice Department first said it is okay.