Today the Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 vote to eliminate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important civil rights laws of the 1960s. The Act essentially delineated the parts of the country that must have their voting laws overseen by the federal government – an attempt to prevent the most racially-discriminatory states from instating voting regulations that would further disenfranchise minority populations.
The 5 votes that won the ruling argued that such singling-out of certain parts of the country was unconstitutional and unnecessary in a greatly changed United States. As reported by Huffington Post, Chief Justice John Roberts refers to “current conditions” as evidence of the now-obsolete nature of the Voting Rights Act:
Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions…
There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.
Thus in the same breath, Roberts calls the Act obsolete, but also admits to its effectiveness at changing policies and attitudes over the years. The question becomes, then, have we come far enough in the pursuit of racial equality that such measures are no longer necessary? Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader and former chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), argues otherwise. In his opinion, the Supreme Court has “put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act” and undermined the efforts of civil rights activists who helped get it passed.