Skepticism Congress can address voting rights ruling
June 25th, 2013
12:07 PM ET
8 years ago

Skepticism Congress can address voting rights ruling

(CNN) – In asking Congress to redraw the map of places where the right to vote may be at risk, the Supreme Court tossed the ball to an institution suffering record-low approval ratings whose ability to pass any meaningful legislation remains in doubt.

On Tuesday, the high court effectively invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that gives the federal government oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. The ruling justices said Congress must re-determine how places are put on the list using updated data – a tough proposition for a body already mired in partisan gridlock over budgets and immigration.

The states and localities included on the list must "pre-clear" any changes to their voting laws with federal authorities, including any changes to district lines. Lawmakers last reauthorized that requirement in 2006 without making any major changes to the method of how a place is included on the list. In 2009, after a Supreme Court ruling raising questions about the constitutionality of the act, Congress failed to pass any changes to the formula.

"Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 majority opinion. "Its failure leaves us today with no choice but to declare Section 4 unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance."

Currently, Republicans – many of whom have expressed opposition to the pre-clearance provision in the Voting Rights Act - control the House of Representatives. With the formula deemed unconstitutional by the court, it appears unlikely the House would pass any measure that re-allows the federal government to oversee local voting laws. House Republicans leaders did not immediately issue reactions to the court's ruling.

Document: Supreme Court rules on Voting Rights Act

Democrats, however, will push for some new determination to be approved by Congress, since they say many laws being enacted in states covered by the Voting Rights Act restrict the right of minorities to cast ballots. President Barack Obama, saying he was "deeply disappointed" in the ruling, wrote in a statement he was "calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in a statement he would "take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting."

But without control of the lower chamber, even liberals expressed doubt that any new rules would be forthcoming.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer called on leaders of both parties in the House and Senate to come together on legislation to address the issues raised in the Supreme Court's ruling, but acknowledged "Congress has not been very able to act in a bipartisan fashion." The number two Democrat said the last time this issue came up in 2006 both parties were able to come together and "I hope we can get back to that again."

Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, was less optimistic.

"A dysfunctional Congress will not provide the protections necessary to make sure all people can vote," Taylor said. "The Roberts Court continues to ignore common-sense protections to make sure our democracy is owned by the people, not the powerful. History will not look kindly on John Roberts."

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, remained more optimistic, calling on Congress to act in protecting voting rights.

"We believe that Congress is in a better position than the Supreme Court to determine how voting discrimination plays out in this country," she said at the court following the reading of the ruling.

"We are disappointed, but now the ball is in Congress' court. We should be turning our attention and our camera across the street because it is now Congress' time to do what it has done so many times in the past – come together, Republicans and Democrats, to reauthorize, to enact, or to amend the Voting Rights Act to ensure the protection of minority voters in this country."

MORE: Veterans of forgotten voting war count the cost

Activists, including Rev. Al Sharpton, said they would begin pressing lawmakers to pass a new formula for determining which places need extra oversight of their voting laws.

"This is a devastating blow to Americans, particularly African-Americans, who are now at the mercy of state governments," Sharpton wrote in a statement. "Given last year's attempts by states to change voting rules, it is absurd to say that we do not need these protections. National Action Network and I will mobilize nationwide to put the pressure on Congress to come (up) with stricter voter protection laws."

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

Filed under: Congress • Supreme Court
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. America Above Parties

    Leave it to the Foxes (Congress with record low incompetant and disapproval rating) to fix the chenken coop. We are screwed!!!

    June 25, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  2. rs

    Sorry, SC- the Congress is simply incapable of doing this.
    First, the House (run by the GOP) is actively seeking to curtail voting rights, and has created the gerrymandered mess that is on the ground right now.
    Second, the GOP which has sufficient membership in the Senate to filibuster evrything will simply do the same to Congressional District Reform.
    Third, in states where the GOP holds the Governorship and the Legislative brancehes, we see unpresidented attempts to halt voting by the poor and minority populations.
    Perhaps this is what the SC wants- have the GOP get truly egregious, and mess up citizens' rights, then they can drop a bomb on them. Meanwhile, this decision is as bad as Citizens' United.

    June 25, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Major fail SCOTUS. Not only can our elections be bought, but now states now have the right to discriminate.

    June 25, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  4. CB FL

    The GOP can't even pass something as simple as a farm bill. What makes you think they will even address this. They saw what happened in 2012 when the states tried to limit voting on the minority. The record turn out. With all the civil rights groups they are going to get the vote out in 2014 GOP beware.

    June 25, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Prepare for civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale.

    June 25, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    2. Have fun playing obstructionist games with the flood of proposed legislation that's coming, GOPers. We dare ya.

    June 25, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    If this is a "political decision" from the 4 conservatives on the SCOTUS, then they just proved to the world they are very VERY bad at politics. Where to start:

    1. Nothing could possibly have motivated minority voters to fight for their voting rights and become more aware of the ongoing attacks on those rights from the GOP. This decision just guaranteed massive minority turnout and issue awareness in 2014.

    June 25, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    3. GOP state legislatures taking this as a green light to go hog-wild trying to pass legislation to dilute and suppress minority votes in their states will be recreating the backfire they saw in 2012. For all their efforts to suppress minority registration and turnout in 2012, the only result was higher minority turnout. Have fun with that too, GOPers.

    June 25, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. Wake up People!

    We're screwed. Almost every state has a republikkkan governor. Let the blatant cheating begin.

    June 25, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Data Driven

    Well, I'm not skeptical that Congress finally has the opportunity to discriminate against minorities again before they were forced (well, sort of) to stop 50 years ago.

    I'm puzzled by the response from the NAACP, by the way.

    June 25, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    ""Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so,""

    And that decision, after all kinds of testimony and evidence was presented to Congress, WAS THE PURVIEW OF CONGRESS. This is, by far, the single most activist decision of our lifetimes and Roberts et al just completely obliterated the GOP/Teatrolls' favorite complaint about activist judges. THEY now take top spot.

    June 25, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  12. PaulCat

    Republicans, please tell the minorities they can not vote, for whatever reason. If you do, just remember what happen in "2012" when you try to do this. The results would be, all democrats elected, across the board. Trust me!

    June 25, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  13. ProudDem

    I'm wondering if this might, in fact, turn out to be a good thing for Democrats. I suspect the GOP will filibuster and/or vote down any attempt to renew the voting rights act. The stench of that may finally be enough to mobilize minority voters in what had been safe districts before. Look at Florida in this last election, The GOPs attempt to suppress the vote actually had the opposite effect.

    June 25, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  14. sonny chapman

    Let's have a vote. Then we can all see the difference between the Pre-1968 Southern Strategy Republican Party & the Grand Old Party that exists today. Hint: There will be a lot of Southerners voting against a Voting Rights Act AGAIN.

    June 25, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  15. tom l.

    States rights issue. Period. For those of you commenting on the south, I suggest you actually visit before you make your comments. Living in Atlanta for 6 months and, as a Jew, I can say this city is fantastic. You can give me anecdotes all you want, but those are individuals. Everyone I speak with thinks that Paula Dean should have been fired. You will never get rid of racism and the harder you push it on people, the more resistent they will be. You must have some perspective and realize how far we have come in less than 50 years. Plus, if you're so concerned about the south and racism, I suggest you go to some places in Boston like the North End.

    June 25, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  16. The Elephant in the Room

    America had to experience "Bloody Sunday" and the murder of blacks & whites [Mississippi Burning] before it got motivated to correct the abuses that the VRA addresses. I sure hope the elitist & short-sighted "conservatives" on the SCOTUS have not doomed the citizentry to experience that history once again. America has already paid that price in blood and it shouldn`t be dismissed. Chaney, Goodman & Brown

    June 25, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. Pete

    It's doubtful these characters could find their way home, without dropping breadcrumbs from their pockets.

    June 25, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. Evergreen

    With minorities overtime becoming the new majority, this could backfire on the soon to be new minority....something to think about. Lets make sure everyones' voting rights are protected.

    June 25, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "States rights issue. Period."

    The 14th and 15th Amendments disagree.

    June 25, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. JustAO

    Bring your smartphones to any upcoming election so we can video how GOP plans to restrict voter access of minorities, young voters, and democratic voters. Post as many videos on youtube to show how discrimination works in 2013 era by GOP lawmakers.

    June 25, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. Data Driven

    @tom l,

    "States rights issue. Period."

    April 1865: Union 1, Rebellion 0. SCOREBOARD.

    June 25, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  22. Wake up People!

    @The Elephant in the Room.

    I will NEVER forget Chaney, Goodman, and Brown. Nor Metgar Evers, who was gunned down in his own driveway for trying to get blacks registered to vote.

    Just 3 of the many men and women that gave their lives so people like myself can vote.

    Which is why I get so angry when I hear someone saying they don't vote.

    June 25, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  23. California Gary

    What's all the fuss? It's not like any states tried to restrict people's right to vote in the last election........oh wait.......seems like there was a little action in that regard now that I think about it. Oh well, I'm sure they won't do it again.......we don't need any laws to protect our rights......rights are rights.......right? All those people that insist on their right to own the gun of their choice would surely respect everyone's "right" to vote wouldn't they? They wouldn't try to restrict access to polling places.....would they? What just happened in the last election didn't really happen did it? According to the Supreme Court, I guess it didn't. And they don't let politics get in the way of their legal they?

    June 25, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  24. saywhat

    Americans lost their trust in this Congress during the last 11 yrs and now can no longer pin their hopes on these self serving, subservient to special interest & foreign lobbies lawmakers. Sad.

    June 25, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  25. Randy, San Francisco

    Republicans and Tea Partiers failed to suppress minority votes in 2012. What they failed to do, the conservatives on the Supreme Court accomplished without shame.

    June 25, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
1 2