Dispatches > News

Back to the states

"Back to the states" Continued...

Issue: "No pray zone?," July 13, 2013

The dissenters complained that for the five justices in the majority, “the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.” Without Sections 4 and 5, DOJ can still prosecute discriminatory election practices under Section 2 of the act, but the burden of proof shifts from the states to DOJ, which has to decide whether to play whack-a-mole each time a state changes its procedures (see a PDF of the opinions at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf).

The Supreme Court had hinted in a previous challenge to the Voting Rights Act that Congress should adjust the formula to the modern era, saying the act “imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.” But Congress did not substantially change the formula when it reauthorized the act in 2006 for 25 years.

The court issued a more unified decision on a case challenging affirmative action policies at public universities, after eight months of negotiations among the justices. The 7-1 ruling by Justice Anthony Kennedy imposed stricter legal scrutiny on universities’ affirmative action policies—schools must show courts they can’t achieve diversity in any possible way but through considering race in admissions. But, contrary to expectations, the court declined to strike down its precedent allowing affirmative action, instead sending The University of Texas at Austin case back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Practically speaking, affirmative action policies will be easier to challenge in court, but lawyers have had a difficult time finding white students who want to be the plaintiffs in such lawsuits. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissent, saying the original 5th Circuit ruling was correct, and Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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