Today, in an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder upheld the controversial Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the only dissenting opinion coming from Justice Clarence Thomas. In writing the majority decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote that Section 5 has achieved “historic accomplishments,” but “now raises serious constitutional concerns.”
Roberts said that while the Court would not shirk its duty to block “legislative encroachments” on the Constitution, the Court was also obliged (if the option was available) to interpret the scope of the legislation as opposed to striking down the law altogether.
Under this rationale, the Court decided that any and all local units of government wanting to change their election laws or methods must be given the option to bail out of the requirement for approval from the Justice Department if their practices survive scrutiny. The case involved a district in Travis County, Texas seeking relief from the pre-clearance provision mandated by Section 5. A court had ruled that bailout exemptions could only be sought by entities that formally register voters.
Read more at the SCOTUSBLOG.
UPDATE: Read Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement on the ruling below:
“The Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act marks a victory for voting rights in America. In a nearly-unanimous decision, the Court not only recognized the historic achievements of the Voting Rights Act as helping make us a ‘very different Nation’, but also ensured that this law will continue to protect free and fair access to the voting booth. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act, which was renewed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support in Congress in 2006.
“As a nation, we have made great strides in advancing and protecting civil rights in the past 44 years since the Voting Rights Act was first passed. But there is still more work to be done to fulfill the promise of full voting rights, free from discrimination, for all Americans.”