In a sharply divided 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act -- the section that spells out the formula used to determine which jurisdictions warrant special scrutiny when they propose changes in their election processes.
The court issued the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder on the next-to-last day of the court's term. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. announced at the end of this morning's session that the court would return to the bench Wednesday and issue the rest of its pending opinions -- presumably including the two cases involving same-sex marriage.
Roberts, writing for the majority in the Voting Rights Act case, said the 40-year-old formula contained in the law is "unconstitutional in light of current conditions," and called on Congress to update it to reflect more recent realities showing expanded minority voter registration and turnout. Click here for the opinion.
The majority opinion explicitly stated that "we issue no holding on Section 5 itself," referring to the section that requires covered jurisdictions to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before implementing election changes.
But in a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "The court stops any application of Section 5 by holding that Section 4(b)'s coverage formula is unconstitutional."
Initial reaction from civil rights groups mirror Ginsburg's dissent, suggesting that the ruling effectively guts the Voting Rights Act.
"By second-guessing Congress’ judgment about which places should be covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the court has left millions of minority voters without the mechanism that has allowed them to stop voting discrimination before it occurs," Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. "This is like letting you keep your car, but taking away the keys. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. Congress must step in."
The Supreme Court will meet Wednesday at 10 a.m. to issue opinions in three remaining cases, including the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases.