NYU Law experts weigh in on Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder. In a 5-4  decision, the Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, invalidating the formula used to determine which states are covered by Section 5 of the VRA.

“The Supreme Court’s decision holding unconstitutional a part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is one of most symbolically charged decisions in the court’s history,” wrote Richard Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, in the Daily Beast. “First enacted in 1965, the part of the law the Court struck down today—Section 4—was critical in breaking the back of the massive disfranchisement of African-Americans in the South that had been locked into place since the 1890s.”

Pildes also participated in an online symposium on the Shelby County decision on SCOTUSblog. In his commentary there, Pildes argued that the Supreme Court’s decision “will express such radically different meanings to different people that we will not be able to forge common ground regarding even the threshold question of what the decision is 'about.'" However, he did put forth one person who might be able to lead the way forward on this issue: “Who will be able to cut through these radically irreconcilable meanings of the Court’s decision and lead forward on these explosive issues? No one is better positioned than President Obama. Having taught about the VRA for years as a law professor, he knows these issues – their history, their legal and policy consequences – thoroughly,” Pildes wrote.

In addition to his pieces on SCOTUSblog and the Daily Beast, Pildes also commented on the case for NBC News, the Washington Post, and NPRKenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law, also discussed the decision on NBC News and in USA Today, referring to the Voting Rights Act as "the crown jewel of the civil rights movement."

NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which had filed an amicus curiae brief in the case and just last week released a report detailing how striking down Section 5 could threaten minority voting rights, released a statement condemning the Supreme Court’s decision:

“The Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with recent history. The Voting Rights Act was vital in 2012, not just 1965. For nearly five decades, it has been the nation’s most effective tool to eradicate racial discrimination in voting. And it is still critical today. Last year, Section 5 helped block laws making it harder to vote. There is a path forward. Section 5 stands.Congress now has the duty to upgrade this key protection and ensure our elections remain free, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”

For more commentary on the Supreme Court's VRA decision and other issues, follow @Kenji_Yoshino@BrennanCenter, and @NYULaw on Twitter.

Posted on June 26, 2013