Monday’s Mtg: The Voting Rights Act at the Supreme Court

The United States is the only country among the advanced democracies that leaves the implementation of our democratic elections in the hands of state and local governments – including partisan election officials.  We have almost no national standards for how elections are to be held.  State and local officials decide when, where, and how people can vote.  As a result, they greatly influence who votes  and we have a long history of voter suppression and discrimination.  At the national level, the 15th amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) are the main bulwarks against this kind of manipulation of democracy.

This week, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to a major provision of the VRA.  The case is Shelby v. Holder.  An Alabama county is suing the Obama Administration over it being subject to the VRA’s section 5 “pre-clearance” requirement.  Shelby – and conservatives everywhere – want Section 5 struck down as an unconstitutional use of federal power over state governments, since under Section 5, 9 states and parts of 17 others that have had long histories of voter discrimination have to have DOJ pre-approve any changes to their voting procedures.  This case is the leading edge of  a broader war that has broken out in this country over voting rights and election procedures.  This war is a big deal and will rage for years to come, in my view.  Conservatives are bound and determined to remake our voting laws and systems  to their advantage (or, to improve and modernize them, as they argue).  Liberals are organizing furiously to stop them and want to expand voting access, not narrow it.

I timed Monday’s meeting to correspond with the oral arguments.  It is hard for me to talk about this issue without revealing my fury over what’s happening.  But, I’ll try if you will.  As always, in CivCon we strive to understand (1) whether the arguments the other side uses make any sense on the merits and also (2) why they might be sincerely held and appeal to the broader, less partisan public.

My opening remarks will leave out the raw politics of this issue and instead explain:

  1. Developments in the voting rights area in the last decade (not the last century); and
  2. Details of this week’s SCOTUS case and the legal arguments being used by both sides.

In our discussion we can talk about the case or the war over voting (a term I prefer to the War On Voting that liberals use, as accurate as it may be) more broadly.  I’ll be a man with a gavel and not afraid to use it.


  1. What’s the (brief) history of the VRA?  What events and controversies have surrounded voting rights in the last decade, and how did they lay the groundwork for this moment?  That is, how did voting rights suddenly become a major, and very bitter, partisan political issue?
  2. How did the current case, Shelby v. Holder, originate? What is it all about?
  3. What legal arguments are both sides making?  What merit might they have – or, since we’re not lawyers, what merit do their claims of fact have?
  4. What broader political, um, calculations and considerations are behind this case?
  5. How might the Court rule?  On what basis?  What were the justices at orals trying to argue (including but not just Scalia)?
  6. The Future:  What will happen if the Court strikes down Section 5 of the VRA?  How weakened will voting rights really become?  What will both political sides do about it?


See you all there!


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