Florida Counties No Longer Need Federal Preclearance to Change Voting Laws

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: June 25, 2013 12:10 PM
Voting Rights Act Protest

Credit: SEIU International

In a historic ruling that signals an end to more than 40 years of federal elections law, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that require certain states and other jurisdictions to get federal preclearance before changing their voting laws. 

“[H]istory did not end in 1965. By the time the Act was reauthorized in 2006, there had been 40 more years of it,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion accompanying the ruling, which was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. “In assessing the current need for a preclearance system that treats states differently from one another today, that history cannot be ignored.”

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices (e.g., literacy tests) and relatively low voter turnout to apply for preclearance from either the United States attorney general or the D.C. district court before making any changes to their voting laws. Among the nine states, dozens of counties, and two cities covered by this provision are five Florida counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe.

Shelby County, located in Alabama (one of the states subject to the preclearance requirement), brought suit, arguing that while the 15th Amendment gives Congress authority to enact “appropriate” legislation for the enforcement of racial minorities’ voting rights, mandatory preclearance is no longer appropriate because federal designation as a jurisdiction with a “history” of discriminatory practices is based on conditions that existed in the 1960s or 1970s and do not reflect present-day circumstances.

Calling preclearance an “extraordinary measure to address an extraordinary problem” and “a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism,” the high court agreed.

“During [the last 40-plus years], largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased, and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers,” Roberts wrote. “And yet the coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs.”

The court went on to declare that the 15th Amendment might still permit Congress to impose preclearance, but only after drawing up new criteria based on up-to-date data: “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

When the VRA was passed in 1965, the preclearance requirement was set to expire after five years, but had been reauthorized several times since 1970. In 2006, the Act was reauthorized for an additional 25 years, but the preclearance formula was still based on conditions that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Florida Department of State did not return requests for comment before this story went to press.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at 954-235-9116.

Comments (1)

10:59AM JUN 27TH 2013
You have long complained about "Judicial activism" . . . . which are basically judicial rulings suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law . . . .

When the Chief Supreme Court Justice (and others) override the near unanimous passage of law by Congress in 2006 (98-0 in the Senate; 390-33 in the House) and uses his own personal belief that Congress just didn't consider this enough in a modern climate, despite tens of thousands of pages of testimony and documentation demonstrating otherwise, THAT'S JUDICIAL ACTIVISM AT ITS WORST.

And when SSN can't even bring itself to raise the issue of conservative judicial activism in such a ruling because it conflicts with constantly repeated right wing talking points, ESPECIALLY when the court is substituting its judgment for the nearly unanimous opinion of the Republican-controlled Congress and Republican president who re-authorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 . . . . that's incredibly . . . .

Pathetic . . . .

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