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Supreme Court Strikes Down Outdated Voting Rights Formula


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In a ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case, the Supreme Court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), ruling it unconstitutional. It upheld Section 5, the preclearance requirement, but stated the formula used to set which states must have preclearance is outdated and therefore unconstitutional.

"We no longer suffer from the voting rights issues we saw in 1965 that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act," stated Westmoreland. "Over the last 48 years, we have seen huge strides in minority voting and in minority representation on a local, state, and federal level. In my home state of Georgia, we had 582 African American elected officials in 2000 -- up from just 30 in 1970. This shows that the VRA has worked and it is now time to update the law to reflect these changed conditions. The Supreme Court's decision will not weaken the positive impact the VRA had on our country nor will it diminish the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. It simply acknowledges the progress that has been made since 1965."

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, stated that lawmakers simply "reenacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts, having no logical relationship to the present day" when they reauthorized the legislation in 2006 without updating it. At that time, Congressman Westmoreland fought to have an amendment added that would update the formula -- the very portion of the law that was struck down -- to reflect more modern information.

"This ruling should not come as a surprise," stated Westmoreland. "The Supreme Court urged Congress in 2009 to update the Voting Rights Act because it "raises serious constitutional concerns' and "differentiates between states in ways that may no longer be justified.' That's because this law used outdated information to set the formula for preclearance and punished certain areas of the country for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. To put it in perspective, a person who became eligible to vote the year the VRA was signed into law became eligible for Medicare last year. That's why I pushed so hard to update the coverage formula -- the portion the Court struck down -- when the VRA came up for reauthorization in 2006. Unfortunately, my pleas fell on deaf ears and the law was not updated. If my colleagues had only joined me in updating the law, we would not be at a place where the VRA has essentially become toothless."

The Court urged Congress to update the formula to reflect more modern data and Congressman Westmoreland hopes that this happens. He would like to see the formula updated to use the three most recent presidential elections and then have that formula reapplied to all states and jurisdictions to determine which areas would require preclearance.

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