SCOTUS Punts on Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court ruled today on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v.


The Supreme Court ruled today on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, frequently shortened as NAMUDNO, a decision that—for now—allows Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to stand. Most of the coverage of the case is from law insiders very familiar with the case and the law, but the clearest summary comes from Election Law blogger Rich Hasen. Section 5 of the Voting Right Acts requires that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their electoral process. If a jurisdiction can demonstrate that it no longer engages in discrimination, it can be granted exemption, though very few jurisdictions have done so successfully. In NAMUDNO, a Texas utilities district that has only existed since 1980 sought exemption from the law. Today the court handed down an 8-1 decision that said the district was exempted while declining to decide on matters of constitutionality.So what does that mean for upcoming campaigns? Hasen explains:

The key political point is that Section 5 will remain in place during the next round of redistricting, and it will be redistricting supervised by the Obama Administration's DOJ. We have already seen that the Obama Administration appears more protective of voting rights than the Bush Administration's DOJ. So this will matter a great deal for the next decade of politics in terms of minority electoral success, even if Section 5 is struck down next decade.

Many expected this to be a split decision over the law's constitutionality, as Chief Justice Roberts has often signaled his belief that the law is unconstitutional. Instead, though, It is clear that that question will at some point be brought before the court again, and the result will depend largely on the court's make-up.

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