On a narrow 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) today as being unconstitutional, ruling that states and counties might no longer be forced to seek federal approval before making changes in their election laws.
Section 4 determines which states and counties must receive preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington when making any changes — major or minor — to voting procedures. States were put on that list in 1965 because some kind of "test or device" was implemented to restrict the right to vote. In 1975, five counties in Florida (including Hillsborough) were added to the list of Section 5 preclearance jurisdictions, after the law was expanded to include areas that only provided English materials when members of a language minority (Spanish, in Hillsborough's case) made up more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens.
Attorneys with civil rights groups blasted the decision.
"Today's decision was a terrible betrayal of the American people. It was a betrayal of American democracy and the right to every voter to vote free of racial discrimination," said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the national Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
It was a "major setback for our democracy, and will have a real and detrimental impact on the voting rights of real Americans," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which argued the case in the Supreme Court back in late February, called the ruling "deeply disappointing" and an act of "judicial overreach."