The Consequences of Striking Down § 4: Voter Inequality

By: Carla Arias

Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The United States Supreme Court struck down § 4 of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 2013.[1] As an integral part of civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act designates which parts of the country must have any voting law changes approved by the federal government.[2]  In a 5-4 decision, the Court held, “[a]t the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current means.’” (emphasis added). [3] Although the decision does not overturn the Act’s ban on discriminatory voting rules, the striking down of § 4 hinders voting equality throughout the country.

Justice Ginsburg dissented stating, “[c]ontinuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and…, continuance would guard against back sliding.”[4] Section 4 of the Voter Rights Act has proven incredibly successful in “increasing minority registration and access to the ballot.”[5] Section 4 should have remained in place to ensure that the increase in minority registration and access continues.

President Obama was quoted as saying, “[a]s a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists.”[6] If voter discrimination still exists, as recognized by the Supreme Court, why eliminate an act that has had such success in promoting voting equality. The striking down of § 4 will likely lead to the backsliding Justin Ginsburg noted and undue the progress President Obama emphasized.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

[1] Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

[2] See 42 U.S.C.A. § 1973b.

[3] Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

[4]  Id. at 2619.

[5]  Id. at 2632.

[6]  Ryan J. Reilly et al., Voting Rights Act Section 4 Struck Down by Supreme Court, Huffington Post, June 25, 2013,


Supreme Court Ruling Opens Doors to Racial Discrimination in Voting System

By: Christina Quinn
Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

On a Tuesday in June, 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“Voting Rights Act”), which required certain states to receive clearance from the Justice Department or Federal Courts before making changes to voting procedures. The majority of the Supreme Court held that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. However, the Court did not strike down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets forth the pre-clearance requirement. Section 4 determined what states must receive clearance from the Department of Justice or Federal Courts. Moreover, Section 4 was a significant provision because it worked to prevent lawless conduct by officials who were determined to bar African Americans from voting.

The impact of the ruling is likely to be felt in the Southern states, which are most strongly impacted by the Voting Rights Act. States such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia, are now free to make minor changes, such as changes to voting procedures, or major changes, like redrawing electoral districts without pre-approval by either the Justice Department or a Federal Court. Racial discrimination in elections is precisely what the Voting Rights Act had prevented for many years and this Supreme Court ruling has opened the doors to once again allow racial discrimination in the voting system.


Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act, New York Times, available at (last visited October 10, 2013).