The Supreme Court has decided Shelby v. Holder. It is one of the most important decisions in decades.
Now, federal preclearance of state election procedures seems to be forever dead and buried. While some congressional Republicans had vowed to enact new legislation to “fix” any coverage formula deemed unconstitutional, the opinion today offers almost no room to do so. They would have to decide what’s more important: the Republican Party, or the Constitution?
Section 5 required states to obtain preclearance approval for any change involving elections — any change, even moving a polling place 20 feet. Only 15 states were covered by Section 5, including hotbeds of Jim Crow like Michigan, New York, and Alaska.
Over the years, the Justice Department unit enforcing Section 5 has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in court sanctions imposed against it for abusing the Section 5 process. They even demanded that Alabama submit felon DNA testing to the Justice Department for approval, a law which had nothing to do with elections.
Now, voter ID laws in Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi are in effect after a delay of years. Section 5 is dead and gone, and congressional Republicans, no matter how much racialist false witness is lobbed at them, simply have no ability to resurrect the law. Will the GOP defend itself against the already-commenced false racial attacks following the decision, or will they cave?
This decision restores the original post-15th Amendment balance to the Constitution. The opinion quoted the Tenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court asserted the core function of our federal system — to preserve liberty:
But the federal balance “is not just an end in itself: Rather, federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power.”