June has been an extremely busy news month. Everything from surveillance and privacy discussions, environmental discussion, abortion laws, a Senate race, and two important Supreme Court decisions with more left. The first of the two decisions was in regards to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an important piece of 1960s Civil Rights legislature. This allowed for people of color to vote in the U.S without any hindrances such as polling booth rules, unfairly placing and removing polling locations, polling “tests”, blocking out same day registration, etc. and giving protection by the law should any of these take place to interfere with the right to vote. In short, the Act protected against discriminatory voting practices.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 15th Amendment (ratified February 3, 1870) allowed for people regardless of “race, color, and previous condition of servitude” the right to vote and that no state entity or the U.S to interfere with this right. Most southern states managed to find ways around this with poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests. When all else failed, violence and intimidation were used.
These existed into the mid-1960s when the Voting Rights Acts was sign into law by President Lyndon Johnson. On Tueday, June 25th the Supreme Court decided that Section 4 was unconstitutional while Section 5 stood. The states targeted in Section 4 were mainly southern—Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Texas—with some counties in other states: California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. The main reason they were targeted is because of previous histories of racially motivated voting practices.
The decision stated that Section 4—which is pretty much the lynchpin that keeps Section 5 relevant—couldn’t be enforced unless Congress came up with a new method of deciding which states, counties, cities, etc. are regulated on this in a way that reflects this decade/time in progress of the society.
Of the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that 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.”
On the opposite side of that, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said of the ruling, “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act was proven effective. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made. In my judgment, the court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.”
Since that particular measure isn’t in play, that means plenty of the above mentioned states and municipalities can do as they please since they don’t have to be precleared—granted it isn’t overtly discriminatory to where it would warrant them being chastised. Already several states are moving to implementing voter IDs, killing off Sunday and early voting times, and same day registration.
The Supreme Court tossed this one to Congress following a 5-4 ruling.
In a positive decision, The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act from 1996 (DOMA), was unconstitutional because it denied benefits to same sex married couples. Section 3 defined marriage as being between a man and woman when it comes to those very benefits and was cut as it was deemed to violate the Constitution’s equal protection under the law guarantee. While it is a victory to gay rights, there was more that could’ve been done such as making it a wide reaching right for gays and lesbians to marry. This means that while DOMA being kneecapped is definitely a victory, it’s only a victory in the states that recognize same sex marriage.
Also cut in a 5-4 ruling was the 2008 Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage and was voted into California law. Like the DOMA ruling, an opportunity was missed in acknowledging same sex marriage nationally. Instead it still rests on states to make their own rules on recognizing same sex marriages. In some states the issue won’t even come up and in others—as is the case with the abortion bans—it will be in the hands of the state to decide without putting it to the people to vote on or by right the bill up and running it through as quickly as possible.