News Release

Supreme Court’s “Troublesome” Voting Rights Act Decision


Regarding the Supreme Court’s decision this morning on Shelby County v. Holder, the Hill reports: “The Supreme Court struck down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, reversing decades-old policies designed to protect minorities from discrimination. The 5-4 decision struck down a formula for determining which states and cities must get permission from the federal government before changing their voting procedures because they have a history of racial discrimination.”

RODOLFO DE LA GARZA, rdelagarza03 at
De la Garza is professor of political science at Columbia University. He specializes in ethnic politics, with particular emphasis on Latino public opinion and electoral involvement.

Said de la Garza: “The Supreme Court’s decision voiding Section 4 and effectively nullifying Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is most troublesome. The decision argues that the conditions identified in Section 4 that gave rise to Section 5’s protections have changed. That is correct but ignores why much of that change has come about.

“Poll taxes, continuous cleansing of voter rolls to remove recently enrolled minorities, and the crudest sorts of racist exclusions have indeed disappeared. But what the decision ignores is that other means to reduce or prevent minority voting such as changing the location of voting places without informing the electorate, or changing the dates of elections, or the hours when polls are open, or not making all election materials available in languages other than English. Such tactics disproportionately affect minority groups. Jurisdictions that were previously covered regularly resorted to these practices. That suppressing minority votes would result if these were enacted is evidenced by how often jurisdictions abandoned them as soon as they are challenged by the Justice Department.

“There can be no doubt that absent the regular and continuous intervention authorized by Section 5, politics in the covered jurisdictions would produce results much more like those of the 1960-1990 decades than like those that have been achieved in the recent past. The decision correctly notes that we live in a different political era, but it is sadly myopic about the role that Section 4 and its enforcement under Section 5 played in shaping today’s political terrain.”

Additional background: “How long did you wait to vote? Depends on your race” from the Washington Post.