Voting Rights and Democracy

RELEASE: With Brnovich, Roberts Court May Have Transformed Voting Rights Act Into “Historical Relic” 

WASHINGTON – Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brnovich v. DNC, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following reaction:

The relentless conservative attack on a crown jewel of the civil rights movement, as well as a pivotal amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified in the wake of the Civil War, continues uninterrupted.

From politicians at the state and federal level, to justices of the Supreme Court, the conservative drive to make it harder for people of color to exercise their fundamental right to vote flies directly in the face of the text and history not only of the Voting Rights Act, but also of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Conservatives purport to revere the Constitution, and claim to interpret laws as they are written, but today’s ruling by the Court’s 6-3 conservative majority “mostly inhabits a law-free zone,” as Justice Kagan put it in her searing dissent.

Just eight years after Chief Justice Roberts and a then-five justice conservative majority eviscerated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, six conservative justices today in Brnovich have gutted the results test of Section 2. States now have the green light to pass new restrictions that make it even harder for citizens in communities of color to exercise their right to vote.

Taking Shelby County and Brnovich together, the Roberts Court has now transformed the Voting Rights Act into what seems to amount to little more than a historical relic.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County—explaining that discarding Section 5 was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet”—proved damningly true. Practically the instant after Shelby County was decided, new measures to block people of color from the ballot box sprouted like mushrooms across the country as conservatives felt emboldened to enact them into law.

Sadly, Justice Kagan’s powerful dissent today is likely to prove equally prescient. “What is tragic,” Kagan wrote, “is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting’” and has instead “enable[d] voting discrimination.”

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Resources:

CAC case page in Brnovich v. DNC; Arizona Republican Party v. DNChttps://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/brnovich-v-dnc-arizona-republican-party-v-dnc/

“The Supreme Court Might Kill Voting Rights—Quietly,” David Gans, The Atlantic, March 7, 2021: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/the-supreme-court-might-kill-voting-rightsquietly/618220/

“SCOTUS Will Consider Another Way to Gut the Voting Rights Act,” David Gans, Slate, March 2, 2021: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/03/scotus-brnovich-voting-rights-act-preview.html

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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