Voting rights: Not so black and white

(LIN) — Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that seeks to revise part of the Voting Rights Act.

The part of the act under scrutiny is Section 5, which makes it mandatory for certain states to get approval from the federal government before making changes to its voting procedures.

A majority of the states included in this requirement are in the South, where history tells a story of struggle and hardship for voter equality and protections.

While the idea of protecting the voting rights of all is a good thing, what many may not realize is the extent of the federal government on their state’s rights, and how their own individual rights may be impacted as a result.

On Feb. 27, a lawmaker from Shelby County, Ala., argued to the court in his case against Attorney General Eric Holder that the reasons for Section 5 – namely racial discrimination – are no longer a relevant argument in his district anymore.

The constitutionality of Section 5 is questioned in this case, citing that the formula used to determine which states get the special treatment is outdated and based on voter turnout information from 1972.

Alabama is one of the only nine states in Section 5 that are covered as a whole by the pre-clearance provision. The following states must submit all changes to voting procedures to the Attorney General before enacting them at the polls:

• Alabama
• Alaska
• Arizona
• Georgia
• Louisiana
• Mississippi
• South Carolina
• Texas
• Virginia

In addition to those nine, sections of 13 other states – including Michigan, North Carolina and New York – must also play by the same rules.

The question the Court must address is if this section puts an undue burden on the states affected.

And perhaps Justice Anthony Kennedy knew this when he said during arguments, “The Marshall Plan was very good, too — the Northwest Ordinance, the Morrill Act — but times change.”

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia expressed his concern that the only reason it was renewed again in 2006 was because nothing could be gained politically for voting against it, saying, "Even the name of it is wonderful, the Voting Rights Act. Who's going to vote against that?"

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor challenges if Alabama has changed, rebutting Rein’s argument with, “Some parts of the South have changed. Your county pretty much hasn't. You may be the wrong party bringing this."

The question all Americans must ask themselves is if the right to vote is a universal, inalienable right that Americans have, then how can voting rights in each state be treated differently?

No one is making the argument that discrimination didn’t exist, especially in the South. It’s alive and well today, but not just in the South.

The state of Alabama may not be the best example of ideal race relations, but who’s to say discriminatory practices don’t happen in Rhode Island?

The only fair decision the U.S. Supreme Court may have to make is either enforce Section 5 for all states, or get rid of it all together.



On the Docket is a feature written by Jessica O. Swink covering the U.S. Supreme Court. Get the latest political news at,  and join in the conversation on  Facebook  and  Twitter.

Copyright 2014 LIN TV News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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