Last Tuesday, a narrow Supreme Court majority struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 determined which parts of the country must, as stipulated by Section 5 of the VRA, submit changes in their election laws for federal approval. The formula was based on local election laws and voter registration statistics as of 1964. As the VRA was altered and expanded over the years, it still relied on these data from 1964. The Court’s majority ruled that it was outdated and unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion said, in essence, times have changed.
Most observers are skeptical that Congress has the will to craft a new formula, despite the apparent support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). As political scientists Nate Persily and Sarah Binder have pointed out, the lopsided bipartisan votes to reauthorize the VRA in 2006 concealed significant opposition within the Republican Party.
Any revisiting of this formula has to take into account how race affects elections and, in turn, how election laws affect racial groups. Here are six findings from political science that should be in everyone’s mind.