The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Tuesday that a key part of the 1965
Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. The ruling applied to Section 4 of the
law, which requires some states, including South Carolina, and other
jurisdictions to get pre-clearance from the federal government for any changes
to voting laws.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 ruling.
Congress reauthorized the law in 2006, and Roberts wrote that the formula for
determining which states need federal approval should have been updated.
“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage
formula grounded in current conditions. It instead re-enacted a formula based
on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day,”
South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson says he supports the Voting
Rights Act and thinks it's been a big success in protecting voting rights, but
says the High Court was correct in its ruling. “What this ruling does is
it takes out the parts of the Voting Rights Act that are outdated and
antiquated, but leaves the rest of the act intact. All the protections are
still in place,” he says.
University of South Carolina law professor Derek Black says, “It's a
big deal for South Carolina.” Just last year, the state had to get federal
approval of its new Voter ID law, and every ten years, when lawmakers redraw
voting district lines, those also have to get federal preclearance before they
can be put into place.
“All that stuff had to be sent to Washington, D.C. So there was a
deterrent effect, which is to say if you were going to do something that you
thought might be a problem, why not just stay away from it? Now there really
isn't any deterrent, and there's no time delay,” he says.
But Wilson says not having to get that federal approval for every single
voting law change will save South Carolina taxpayers millions of dollars.
“Right now, if we wanted to pass a law that changed the times of operation
of your local election office from 8:30 to 8:00 a.m., you would have to go to
the federal government to ask permission. That cost money.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said after the ruling,
“Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was a necessary tool to preserve
voting rights, but due to the reform and advances in South Carolina election
law, it is no longer necessary. The Supreme Court noted this tremendous
progress in South Carolina's electoral system and it was the underpinning of
their decision. I concur with the Court that our state has made
“The Supreme Court decision now puts South Carolina on equal footing
with every other state in the nation. As a South Carolinian, I'm glad we
will no longer be singled out and treated differently than our sister
But South Carolina 6th District Congressman James Clyburn, who's
the Assistant Democratic Leader in the House, said, “The Voting Rights Act
has been the single most important tool to protect the right to vote over the
last half century. All the way up to the present day, the preclearance
requirement has prevented egregious infringements on the franchise, and today's
decision frighteningly opens the door for underhanded schemes to reduce the
electoral power of minority communities.”
Chief Justice Robert's opinion says that Congress may pass another law to
restore that section of the Voting Rights Act, if it uses up-to-date data.
Clyburn said, “This work begins today.”
Dr. Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches
of the NAACP, said of the ruling, “We know that problems still exist based
on race, based on gender, based on social status. The one place where race has
played the biggest role, and had the biggest impact and did the most damage has
been in voting.”
He worries that the ruling, and the reaction to it, will make Congress even
“more venomous than it is now. We will see greater divisiveness.”