The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


The Voting Rights Act of 1965 drastically transformed the ability of African Americans to exercise their right to vote in the South. The most influential policy under the Act was Section Five. This section instituted a new system of review for voting procedure changes in states with a history of racial discrimination. States subject to this section of the Voting Rights Act must get preclearance by submitting any changes to their voting laws to the United States Department of Justice or to the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia. Any law not cleared will not go into effect. Section Five receives criticism as conflicting with values of federalism. Some opponents say the section is no longer necessary to ensure voter nondiscrimination. The Supreme Court of the United States took the challenge of determining the constitutionality of Section Five’s preclearance authority in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. Ultimately, the Court did not address constitutionality and resolved the case on alternative grounds. However, the opinion and a dissent appeared to be in favor of finding the section unconstitutional. Many states have begun to change the requirements for voting. Some have changed the number of days allowed for early voting, the identification required to vote, and restrictions on voter registration organizations. Eventually the Supreme Court will likely need to confront the constitutionality of Section Five. However, the Court should remember voter suppression is alive and well today. The Supreme Court should affirm Congress’ authority to remedy state action aimed at hindering voter participation.

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