The measure passed the Senate 98-0; 390 voted for it in the House while only 33 opposed it.
A little less than seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strip away a major provision in the law known as “pre-clearance.” Under this rule, Southern states that had once legalized racial bigotry at the ballot box were required to have Justice Department lawyers review any changes to their voting procedures. (Pre-clearance also applied to a handful of other non-Southern locales.)
The court’s opinion in Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder was released in late June. The majority’s reasoning was that the act had worked so well in preventing efforts at weakening minority voting strength that it was no longer necessary, especially in only select parts of the United States.
The court’s majority left itself an out, however. “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
Got it? The court struck down one part of the Voting Rights Act, despite overwhelming congressional support for renewal in 2006, and suggested that the U.S. House and Senate had the option of making appropriate corrections to the law.
The chances of that happening in the Republican-led House of Representatives are best summed up in the words of a longtime congressman from Texas. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said last week.
What is happening is that over the past 30 days several states formerly under the Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance provision have taken steps that will quite likely tamp down voter turnout among minorities. That’s pretty fast work.
“The notion that because the Voting Rights Act had been so tremendously effective we had to stop it didn’t make any sense to me,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented in the Shelby County case, recently told the Associated Press. “And one really could have predicted what was going to happen.”