By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision on Tuesday. Alabama’s own Shelby County challenged the nearly 50 year old Voting Rights Act as a good idea whose time has clearly passed. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “Section 4’s formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions.”
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a written statement, “The Supreme Court’s decision today to rule Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act Unconstitutional is a testament to how far we have come as a state and as a nation in the area of fair and free elections. Attorney General Eric Holder should not have the power to play political games with the voting laws in Alabama and thanks to the courage of Shelby County; he no longer has that power.”
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R) from Alabama said on Facebook, “The Alabama of today is vastly different than the one of a half century ago, and the time for us to be freed from the burden of federal oversight is long overdue. Today’s ruling clearly states that our constitutional rights as Alabamians take precedence over the wants and whims of liberal Justice Department bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Starting today, Alabama will be able determine its own destiny when it comes to campaigns, elections and voting procedures in our state.”
Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster said on Facebook, “The Supreme Court was correct in its ruling on the Voting Rights Act today. It is absurd that Congress continues to use the same formula in 2013 for pre-clearance in Alabama that is used in 1966. While discrimination will unfortunately always be a part of every society I believe many things have changed for the better in our county and state. Every state should be subjected to the same standards. This ruling was right and I hope it will lead to a more even application by the US Justice Department.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) said, “Fifty years ago, there were valid reasons this law was passed. But even though conditions changed over time, the Section 4 test of the Voting Rights Act did not. As Chief Justice Roberts said when he delivered the Supreme Court’s opinion, ‘history did not end in 1965,’ and ‘history since 1965 cannot be ignored.’”
Attorney General Strange (R) said, “The Supreme Court today rightly recognized that Alabama and other covered jurisdictions could not be treated unequally based on things that happened decades ago. The important protections of Section 2 of the Voting Rights remain in place, preserving for all citizens the right to challenge discriminatory laws in court. At the same time, I am proud that the nation’s highest court recognizes the important progress made over the last fifty years, and I commend the court for its decision.”
Chairman Armistead said, “Minority voting in Alabama has been higher in years past than in some areas that weren’t subject to pre-clearance. That goes to show that Alabama has come a long way since 1965 and as a result deserves better treatment than it has been given for nearly 50 years.”
Shelby County argued successfully that the South is not the same as it was nearly 50 years ago when federal forces intervened in Alabama and other Southern states to end segregation and the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress making the U.S. Department of Justice the ultimate authority in how states, counties, and even cities must draw their district lines. Only certain states are required to go through the costly and time consuming pre-clearance process. Sec. Holder and the DOJ argued that the Voting Rights Act is constitutional and pre-clearance is still necessary. Most of the civil rights community supported Holder in this cause.
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which was renewed by Congress in 2006, was based on voter registration numbers and other data from 1965. Back in 1965 the numbers showed that there was a 50% discrepancy between the registration of Blacks and Whites, while the numbers used in 2006 showed the numbers to be essentially equal. However the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Congress neglected to ever modernize Section 4. Justice Roberts’ majority opinion allowed the Voting Rights Act including the controversial Section 5, known as the pre-clearance section to stand, however it tossed Section 4 back to the Congress. Section 5 is enforced based on the formula set forth in Section 4.
Shelby County Attorney Butch Ellis sued the federal government arguing that section five of the Voting Rights Act is an excessive burden on state and local government. Section five requires that every redistricting plan in states that the federal government singles out for a history of discrimination has to seek pre-approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Calera redistricted their town eliminating the only majority minority city council district because they said that it was impossible to create a majority minority districts because Blacks increasingly live in the same neighborhoods as Whites, particularly in new subdivisions annexed into the town. DOJ said that Calera should have asked for approval before annexing any new subdivisions into the city and overturned the results of a Calera election where the town’s lone Black city councilman was defeated because the city had held the election without receiving preclearance for the city council districts from the massive Civil Rights Division at DOJ.