Drury Professor: Court's Voting Rights Act Decision Puts Ball Back in Congress' Court

Jun 25, 2013

Saying a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 4, which establishes a coverage formula to identify states that may require extra scrutiny regarding voting procedures. As KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports, the decision essentially shifts the focus back onto Congress to find a solution.

That’s according to Dr. Dan Ponder, political science professor at Drury University in Springfield.

“I think what the court did today was to send the ball back into Congress’ court, but the problem with Congress right now in this hyper political environment is that they barely have a racket to play with,” Ponder said.

In was Congress back in 2006 that renewed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. That item requires certain states with a history of discrimination to have changes to any voting procedures approved by the federal government. As the Associated Press writes, Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 4 - the coverage formula - essentially makes Section 5 unenforceable until Congress "comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require federal monitoring of elections."

It was a 5-4 decision by the High Court that ruled in favor of officials from Shelby County, Alabama. Chief Justice Jon Roberts, in writing for the majority, stated that “The Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.”

See the transcript of Tuesday's decision.

President Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome, and asked Congress to devise a new formula for determining which states need extra federal supervision.

The dissenting opinion by the four justices cited that continuing enforcement of Section 5 “would guard against back sliding,” following decades of gains in racial relations.

Dr. Ponder says should Congress fail to act on a new formula, he’s concerned over the possible actions of states and counties that were the subjects of these restrictions.

“They’ll be able to proceed without federal oversight and I do think that there is a real danger now that in many instances that there will be successful voter suppression,” Ponder said.

The jurisdictions covered under Section 5 included nine southern states and multiple counties in five other states. Those areas were determined by a coverage formula that was last updated in 1972.

For KSMU news, I'm Scott Harvey.

Learn more on Tuesday's Voting Rights Act decision, plus upcoming decisions from the High Court at SCOTUS Blog.