Cert petitions were filed this past Friday, July 20, in two cases that challenge the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, one involving Shelby County, Ala., and the other, Kinston, N.C. This issue was presented to the Court in 2009, and at that time the justices acknowledged the serious problems raised by Section 5 but avoided deciding the matter. They ought to decide it now.
Section 5 requires some state and local jurisdictions — mostly but not exclusively in the South — to “preclear” with the federal government any change related to a voting practice or procedure, no matter how big or small. It defines coverage in an outdated and irrational way. What’s worse, Section 5 is now used principally as a means to ensure that voting districts are drawn with an eye on race — and, in particular, with an eye toward segregating districts. So the law in 2012 is outdated and irrational, and inconsistent not only with federalism principles but also with the original ideals of the civil-rights movement.