How did the Voting Rights Act end up in the Supreme Court?


Although we came out months from any judgments, many of them Voting rights Advocates have their eyes on the Supreme Court, which is likely to rule on a handful of cases that might affect the strength of the Voting Rights Act.

The law was passed and signed into law in 1965, but it took a long time to prepare. Its roots go back to the end of Reconstruction. Federal forces withdrew from the South after the Compromise of 1877, marking what is known as the nadir for race relations in America. Jim Crow laws were enacted, the Ku Klux Klan rose to power, and many attempts by blacks to vote and exercise full citizenship were met with violence. This violence continued into the 1960s.

After the VRA was passed, black voter registration in the South skyrocketed, and in the nearly six decades since it was enacted, the legislation has been strengthened and weakened. According to Otaiba R. Ellis, professor of law at Case Western Reserve School, “In some ways, the way the Voting Rights Act changed it was, in part, a conversation between Congress and the Supreme Court.”

On this week’s episode of Weed – Vox’s Politics and Politics Discussion Podcast – We jump into the Weeds Time Machine with Ellis and go back to the circumstances that gave us the VRA, and look ahead to what politics could become in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. You can listen to files Weed on me Apple PodcastAnd SpotifyAnd stitcher Or wherever you get podcasts.


Otaiba R. Ellis

Merrill [v. Milligan] He is now in court, relating to Alabama’s redistricting plan. Alabama went through a redistricting process, drawing one district for the U.S. House of Representatives that was majority black. The plaintiffs here are essentially claiming that Alabama mobilized black voters in that district when it should have anchored more districts that were majority African American. And so [the plaintiffs say] That this violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

So this would likely completely change the standard for racial dilution cases under the Voting Rights Act, and potentially make it more difficult for plaintiffs to make their claims.

Junkyllin Hill

This isn’t the only voting-related Supreme Court case that could affect the Voting Rights Act being passed this summer, is it?

Otaiba R. Ellis

Another really important case, even if it’s not directly related to the Voting Rights Act, [that] Will however affect the VRA is the so-called condition Moore v. Harper. And the case comes from North Carolina, where the North Carolina General Assembly has passed another set of voting rules after a history of voting cases where federal and state courts have overturned North Carolina’s efforts. This time, however, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the General Assembly’s ruling, and then the General Assembly moved to the US Supreme Court, arguing that the theory of an independent state legislature should be embraced by the US Supreme Court, thus excluding state courts from being able to judge what legislatures do state with respect to federal election rules.

So they say, well, if it’s up to the states, and the election clause in Article 1 of the Constitution says the legislature should make the rules. They say take it literally, as it is in the legislature and nobody else can make the rules.

Junkyllin Hill

But the court’s job is to interpret the rules they make. This is why we have three branches. This is why we have our executive, legislative and judicial power. Isn’t a state court technically part of the state?

Otaiba R. Ellis

From my point of view – and full disclosure, I co-authored a brief on Moore v. Harper Case – Our argument was that this doesn’t make sense. Branches of government exist to balance anyone’s work. Thus, for the legislature to be fully empowered, and depending on which version of the independent state legislature theory you look at, it could only be the state legislature and perhaps the federal courts, or perhaps only the Supreme Court, but not the state courts themselves. Is it possible that a state court with its constitution that state courts can check the legislature, and that all this is ignored because of this? comprehensive , [this is an] Non-historical and illogical interpretation of the Constitution.

Junkyllin Hill

What does the future of voting in America look like without a Voting Rights Act — or without any teeth, which may happen after this upcoming Supreme Court hearing?

Otaiba R. Ellis

I think voting gets too hard or too advanced, depending on what state you’re in. Because the pattern that seems to be playing out these days is one particular state that wants to take more and more initiatives driven by the myth of voter fraud and wants to make the rules tougher, make the regulations more stringent and onerous. Some states have even recently passed rules that require voting to be exclusively in person.

The challenge is with the stricter rules driving talk of voter fraud, does that make it very difficult for people who don’t have the means to get around these participating hoops? And to me, that mirrors the Jim Crow problems we’ve been talking about: rock bottom voting rights. This is an era when an entire third of the country’s population could not vote effectively because there were a lot of regulations that took advantage of the weaknesses of that population. And all this discrimination occurred largely along lines of ethnicity. Does something like this repeat itself? Maybe not within the scope of Jim Crow apartheid, but I think any repeat of that could be problematic, and if history teaches us anything, a lot of that will go along with race.

And of course, the irony is, depending on which state you look at, there are also developments in voting rights, right? There are some states that have adopted voting by mail, drop boxes, same-day registration, milder versions of voter ID, and the like. And so I wonder if the future might be a new kind of map of “separate but equal” voting across the country, the ease with which you can vote, the ease with which you can participate in a democracy, depends on what state you’re in and what’s the agenda of the legislature your own.

Junkyllin Hill

I’m curious as to what parallels exist between the era that gave us the Voting Rights Act and our current political landscape. Because in many ways, it’s different. But in many ways, it looks very similar.

Otaiba R. Ellis

On one level, there is a lot of what I like to think of as excessive voting regulation in the immediate run-up to the Voting Rights Act. You have this list of Jim Crow rules that discouraged people from voting. And today, arguably, we have the advent of another set of rules driven by concerns about voter fraud that do not exist: strict voter identification laws, more aggressive voter purges, and narrowing of opportunities to vote outside of just Election Day itself, which in itself creates long lines and makes voting more difficult. difficulty.

We remember the footage from Georgia in the aftermath of their recent passed laws, which created long lines, and you had rules that said you couldn’t bring someone to drink water while they stood in line for hours on end in order to wait to vote. All of these types of rules have their own form of deterrent effect that would keep people from voting.

But this kind of expressive mischief of discouraging people from practicing voting may become the norm. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the impact of the talk of voter fraud, in the era around Reconstruction and in the Jim Crow and even the Voting Rights Act era. Now much of the justification for these strict rules is to prevent fraud and to preserve the integrity of elections.



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