On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. This section of the Act is inextricably linked to Section 5, which the Supreme Court has not handled in recent days.
The Voting Rights Act generally serves to protect people from racial discrimination in all aspects of voting. Originally passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act made it federally illegal to prevent minorities from voting or to be subjected to taking literacy tests in order to vote.
The passing of this act was seen as a victory for both minority voters and civil rights supporters, especially in Southern states where racial discrimination was most prominent.
Section 4, “established a formula to identify areas [that were most negatively affected by racial discrimination in voting] and to provide for more stringent remedies where appropriate.”
While Section 4 is known as the formula, Section 5, “requires state and local governments in certain parts of the country to get federal approval, known as ‘preclearance,’ before implementing any changes they want to make in their voting procedures: anything from moving a polling place to changing district lines in the country.”
But last Tuesday it seems that we have taken a step backwards with the removal of Section 4.
On June 26 the Supreme Court took a step forward in a different way by striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This specific section, “limited the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits.”
In addition, the Supreme Court deferred their ruling on Proposition 8, a proposed initiative in California that would legally validate marriage solely between one man and one woman. This allowed the lower California court to make the decision, which ultimately maintained their previous ruling that found Prop 8 to be unconstitutional.
While a decision has not yet been made in regards to any type of universal legality of same sex marriage, court decisions such as those made this past week are definitely headed in the right direction.
So, how will these arguably contradictory court decisions impact the future of American civil rights and social issues? What do they imply for other decisions that will eventually have to be made?
I am not so sure.
In one respect, however, I fear that we are severely backpedaling and somewhat erasing crucial progress that has taken decades to create. In his decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice John Roberts reasons that, “our country has changed,” implying that the act itself is no longer necessary.
His unbelievable ignorance to the high level of racial discrimination that remains in our society, mixed with his clear lack of advocacy towards racial equality in general, is sadly reminiscent of the horrendous conditions of the civil rights era.
On the other hand, the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings prove that equality can in fact win. And while I’m sure we all foresee many long roads ahead in relation to both of the issues at hand, I can only hope that people will continue to work on letting tolerance, love, and acceptance win as well.