SCOTUS in June, Part 1: Voting Rights Act


As with every June, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered a plethora of decisions from its October session. The two biggest seemed to have the same theme: State’s rights, and seemed to at least be consistent. I say seemed to have, because one did, and the other sounded like it, until you actually read the decision. Since both decisions, one on the Voting Rights Act and the other the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), cover a lot of ground, this is part 1 of a 2 part series. Up first, VRA.

There were two different views of governing in this decision, States rights and equal sovereignty as found in the 10th Amendment, and the Constitution and federal law being the “supreme Law of the land.” U.S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. It is an age old battle, one that caused a civil war some 150 years ago. States are sovereign, and most of the laws they make are within their purview, unless they directly contradict the Constitution and in some cases Federal law. Remember, the 10th Amendment says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The VRA was passed by Congress in 1965 to address issues of voting discrimination in the US. Voting rights for all citizens is protected under the 15th Amendment. When the VRA was signed into law, many States had requirements such as passing voting tests and other methods to prevent people of color from being able to vote. The VRA was Congress’ solution but their solution violated the 10th Amendment. What’s worse, they kept it in place using 1965 statistics, instead of allowing it to evolve as the problem became less pervasive and in some places statistically non-existent.

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