Breitbart News was in the courtroom today when Chief Justice John Roberts read the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court’s opinion was modest and narrow, but to hear the media tell it, you would think the Supreme Court struck down the core of this historic law.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) makes some states come to the federal government for advance permission before they can make any changes to their voting laws or procedures–including redrawing their congressional and legislative districts after each national census. This is a massive intrusion into state sovereignty under the U.S. Constitution and treats those states differently from the rest of the country, where other states need not get a permission slip from Uncle Sam.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided the case arguing that Section 5 is unconstitutional in modern America, as the terrible race-based voter suppression that plagued parts of this country half a century ago that necessitated the provision is no long prevalent.
This is not about people being denied voting rights. Those are fully secured by Section 2 of VRA. Section 5 is just about whether some states must get preclearance from the federal government, leaving all other legal protections for voting rights in place.
Instead of striking down VRA Section 5 as many argued for, the Supreme Court held on much narrower grounds that the formula Congress uses for Section 5–a formula found in Section 4 of VRA, based on voter data that is over 40 years old–is now obsolete and tasked Congress with writing a new formula for use in Section 5 states.
To hear the media describe this case, you’d think the Supreme Court just reinstated Jim Crow and separate-but-equal laws. You would think that Section 5 had been struck down, or really even Section 2 (which is the biggest protection for voting rights in VRA). The reality could not be further from the truth, and it’s a sad state of affairs when our nation’s media so thoroughly fails in its task to inform the American public when the Supreme Court speaks.
Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell–a black American who grew up before VRA was passed and dealt with voting-rights issues regularly as Cincinnati mayor and in his other public offices–said of today’s decision: “The Chicken Little’s of this country who claim the sky is falling are doing us all a grave disservice.”
“All the Supreme Court did today is it held that all 50 states are equal; it’s common sense that voters in Texas and voters in my state of Ohio are equal,” Blackwell explained. “Congress says that there are still areas of the country with serious voting issues. What the Court said today is that the data proves those areas are not the same as they were in 1972 when Congress last revised this formula.”
“The Court is telling Congress that you can still require certain states to get preclearance from the federal government, you just need to develop a method that shows what those states are,” he concluded.
A full analysis will be posted here later today.
Breitbart News legal columnist Ken Klukowski is on faculty at Liberty University School of Law.