Supreme Court to review constitutionality of Voting Rights Act today

The Supreme Court plans to scrutinize the Voting Rights Act today while it examines its constitutional legality.

Since its enactment in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has generated a large amount of controversy.

The act itself was designed to disrupt any attempts by potentially voting districts mostly in the South to suppress the voting rights of minority voters.

Political science professor Sterling Johnson said the chances of the Voting Rights Act being overturned in court or by Congress before its set 2031 expiration is unlikely.

“I don’t see the law ever being repealed by Congress,” Johnson said. “Doing so would be political suicide.”

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia in their entirety must seek Justice Department approval before adjusting voting maps or laws in any fashion. Portions of Michigan, New Hampshire, California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota are also covered by the law.

Congress has repeatedly voted for extensions of the law, which has successfully deterred voter discrimination since its enactment, including a 25-year extension signed by President Bush in 2006.

As recently as 2009, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the law by a vote of 8-1. Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenting vote in the case.

Pointing to events such as the election of the first black president, Thomas said racism was no longer prevalent enough to justify what he views to be a gross federal infringement upon states’ rights.

“Punishment for long past sins is not a legitimate basis for imposing a forward-looking preventative measure that has already served its purpose,” Thomas said.

School of Public Service and Global Citizenship Director David Jesuit said Thomas’s opinion is not one commonly held among scholars. Furthermore, he said voter ID laws (which must be approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act) are examples of attempts to diminish minority voters.

"In many ways, the (discriminatory voting) barriers have been removed,” Jesuit said.  “But, the mere fact that we are having this debate tells me discrimination hasn't disappeared completely."

The lawsuit is being brought on by Shelby County in Alabama.


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