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In 2013, Shelby County, Alabama challenged Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires that states and counties with a history of trying to block minorities from voting get pre-clearance from the Justice Department to change any voting laws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted in order to combat voter discrimination against African Americans. Section 5 of the act prohibits these select (eligible) districts (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia and counties and townships in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Michigan) from making changes to their election laws without official authorization in a process called preclearance. Section 4(b) defines eligible districts as ones that had imposed literacy tests or other unfair devices and had low voter registration or turnout less than 50% in the 1964 presidential election. Congress later expanded the law to add jurisdictions with significant minority populations and election materials that were only in English.  These select districts must prove to the Attorney General or a three-judged panel of a Washington, D.C. district court that the change will neither have the purpose nor  the effect of negatively impacting any person’s right to vote based on their race or minority status. Shelby County filed a suit that sought a declaratory judgment that both Section 5 and Section 4b of the VRA is unconstitutional.  
The Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that Section 4 is unconstitutional and that the formula used for decades can no longer be used to establish those “pre-clearance” requirements. They did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the deciding vote in the final ruling. Invoking the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers to the states that are not granted to the federal government, and claiming that states should be treated equally, he argued that the Voting Rights Act “sharply departs” from principles of states’ rights. He concluded that times have changed; the formulas that govern singling out one state from another for different treatment, which once “made sense,” have lost their relevance, and “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” Justice Roberts included that there was no doubt that the VRA had helped significantly redress racial discrimination but Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem relates to current conditions. To overview,  the majority argued that a) the states have the reserved power to run their own elections and be treated equally and b) that times have changed and, therefore, the coverage formula doesn’t make sense anymore (basically, racism isn’t a major problem anymore).
  The Supreme Court was incorrect in ruling Section 4 unconstitutional. In the constitution, the 15th amendment states that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude and the Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”.  The Constitution gave the states the power to make laws regarding national elections but provided that if Congress became dissatisfied with the state laws, it could take necessary actions to ensure that the 15th amendment was protected and enforced. So, Congress has the final authority over federal elections. Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment clearly gives Congress the power to protect voters from racial discrimination, and no part of the Constitution restricts this power. Both Section 5 of the VRA and Section 4 are completely within this clearly-delegated federal power. Plus, the coverage formula was approved by over 300 in House and 98-0 in Senate. Congress rightfully exercised the 15th amendment and renewed a law pivotal to protecting the voting rights of minorities.
  In addition to the 15th amendment, Congress’s power to enforce voting rights by necessary legislation is backed by the supremacy clause. The supremacy clause establishes that the federal Constitution, and federal law, takes precedence over state laws. The states may have the reserved power to run their own elections, but Congress has the power by any legislation to protect the 15th amendment because federal law trumps state law. 
Justice Roberts’s majority opinion tried to get around the 15th amendment and the supremacy clause by asserting (but not really defending) a right to equal state sovereignty. This is begging the question, a logical fallacy; assertions need to be supported by facts, not other assertions.  Justice Roberts does not identify a textual source of this restriction on federal power in the Constitution because none exists. Besides, this was also the first time that the states had been given an explicit Constitutional promise of equality at any point after they had joined the Union.
  The VRA has resolved many issues with racial discrimination in elections, so why get rid of it? By declaring Section 4 unconstitutional, the Supreme Court invited voter discrimination to gain prominence again. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg explained that “the sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act has proven effective … throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” The Court believed that the VRA’s success in eliminating the devices used to prevent minorities from voting in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. 
But the Act provided a means by which any covered state could get out from under the Act by for five years not trying to pass any laws that promoted racial discrimination in its voting procedures. If times had changed, many states would have complied. Justice Roberts did not mention that hundreds of cases in states where the Justice Department, complying to the authority of the VRA, had prevented discriminatory changes in voting laws, including some in 2012 and in Shelby County (which had failed preclearance over 240 times since the VRA was enacted). The VRA is rooted in Congress’s ability to recognize measures designed to limit minority voting rights. Voting discrimination in more subtle barriers is significant evidence that preclearance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent regression.
The arguably more prominent issue of Justice Robert’s claim ‘the times have changed’, is that he relied on inaccurate data to support his argument—comparable rates of voter registration among blacks and whites in six southern states. To illustrate this, Justice Roberts compiled data into a chart and published it in the majority opinion. It compared voter registration rates for whites and blacks from 1965 and 2004 in the six southern states subject to special oversight from the government during elections. Justice Roberts assembled his chart from data in congressional reports produced when lawmakers last renewed the Act in 2006. The data displayed that registration gaps between blacks and whites had shrunk significantly. But some of the numbers Justice Roberts included in his chart were wrong. The chart suggested that rates of registration for blacks in 2004 had matched or succeeded those for whites. But Justice Roberts used numbers that counted Hispanics as white, including many Hispanics who weren’t U.S. citizens and could not register to vote, which had the effect of lowering the rate of white registration. In Georgia, white registration was 68 percent, not 63.5 percent, as Justice Robert’s chart seemed to have suggested. The rate of registration for whites surpassed the rate of blacks by 4 percent, rather than trailing it. Similarly, the Chief Justice’s chart asserted that in Virginia, the rate of registration for whites was just 10 percent higher than the rate of registration for blacks, a gap that actually represented progress. But the actual gap, removing counted Hispanics, was 14.2 percent. This completely weakens the rationale for Robert’s decision. It was unfortunate that this case was decided by Justices relying on statistical analysis when they’ve spent their careers studying law.  
Since the majority ruled Section 4 unconstitutional, state legislatures in states that previously required preclearance have been very active. Without Section 4, the Justice Department has fewer legal resources or ability for challenging election laws that are discriminatory. For example, two months after the Supreme Court decision, North Carolina passed a number of laws, including strict new photo ID requirements. The law also eliminates same-day voter registration, shortens the early voting period, and specifies that ballots cast at the wrong polling station will be thrown out.  Almost as soon as the Shelby County v. Holder decision was released, Texas implemented strict photo ID laws that have been shown to affect those who have fewer opportunities to obtain the required documents and which would have been blocked by Section 5. Within months of Shelby County, Mississippi similarly enforced its ID law, even though numerous counties with large African-American populations did not have a single office that issued the required documents. The law had been passed in 2011 but it could not get the required preclearance under Section 5. There is no doubt that the Shelby County decision has negatively impacted voting rights.  Since the Supreme Court ruling, states have been rapidly passing laws that continue to make voting a strenuous occasion and limiting access to polls. The negative public opinion of the case affirms that the court’s ruling was a mistake. Voting discrimination is still a prominent issue and taking away laws that prevent it is counterproductive to combating racism in the United States.
Shelby versus Holder is one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that certain states and counties (mainly southern) must undergo special preclearance before changing their voting laws is based on a 40-year-old formula that is no longer relevant to changing racial circumstances. The majority’s opinion was based on assertions and incorrect data. The 15th amendment gives Congress the power to use appropriate legislation to protect voting rights of minorities, and the supremacy clause states that federal law tops state law. Data collected from a 2006 poll falsely counted unregistered Hispanics as white and lowered the voting turnout, making it appear as though there was almost virtually no gap between black and white voter turnout. Unfortunately, the court’s decision in Shelby v Holder was wrong, and the impact is even worse. Without Section 4, many states who had a history of discrimination in voting have been able to pass laws freely that restrict access to polls and limit the ability of minorities to vote. America took a step backward in its fight to eliminate voter discrimination. 

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