The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

June 26, 2013

States promise quick action on election laws

(Continued)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on behalf of the court's liberal bloc, all of them Democratic appointees. Ginsburg argued that continued discrimination, which Roberts himself noted in the majority opinion, demands continued federal oversight.

Critics of the majority also chided court conservatives for striking down congressional action, given that the 14th and 15th amendments authorize Congress to enact laws enforcing the amendments' protections against discrimination.

Before the ruling, the formula required reviews for all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia; and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

Justice Department attorneys have used Section 5 in multiple cases to block voter identification laws, saying they discriminate against minority and poor voters who are less likely to have the required government-issued documents. Over the law's existence, many Southern states have ended up watching courts drawing legislative and congressional district lines after federal authorities used Section 5 to invalidate what state lawmakers did.

South Carolina has successfully implemented a voter identification law, but only after revising its preferred policy after Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans negotiated with the Obama administration. Under the court's ruling, no negotiations would've been necessary.

Within hours of Tuesday's decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared on Twitter, "(U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder can no longer deny VoterID in Texas." The Texas Department of Public Safety announced later in the day that on Thursday it would begin distributing photo IDs under a 2011 law that Holder's lawyers had blocked under Section 5.

In Mississippi, the secretary of state said her office would begin enforcing a pending voter ID law for primaries in June 2014. North Carolina Republicans said they plan swift action on a pending voter ID bill.

Laughlin McDonald, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's voting rights office, said he agrees that pending submissions to the Justice Department are now moot. It's less clear what happens to scores of laws that the feds have already denied since the 2006 reauthorization. McDonald said he believes a state or other covered jurisdiction would have a strong case to argue that it could implement any affected law it has passed since the reauthorization.

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