The Voting Rights Act was landmark legislation when it was passed, but it will soon undergo scrutiny from the Supreme Court yet again. At issue this time is if the formula to determine preclearance, which defines which states or counties are under Department of Justice control, is outdated.
In 2009, the Supreme Court decided that the Voting Rights Act was constitutional but that the South had changed in a lot of ways since it was enacted.
From 1965 to 1974, the Department of Justice objected to just over 14 percent of all election changes in the states and counties under its jurisdiction. From 1982 to 2004, that number dropped to below 1 percent.
Despite that, nine states and multiple counties in other states must get every election change approved by the Department of Justice, even if it is just moving a precinct across the street to alleviate parking. The undue burden that this places on small towns and municipalities is obviously far higher than the benefits of the law.
Moving from the unfairness in the application of the law, the Voting Rights Act is also unfair philosophically. An American ideal is equality for all under the law. For that to be achieved, all laws must apply equally and fairly to all, at the individual and the state level.
The Voting Rights Act does not apply fairly to the states since only a handful out of the 50 states have to abide by the preclearance sections.
What if certain states did not have to abide by the Civil Rights Act, the First Amendment or any other law?
People would be screaming in the streets for equal application of the law. However, as soon as a law is framed so that people view it as adding a burden to certain states, rather than exempting states, then the law is acceptable.
Currently, the Department of Justice has objected to voter identification laws in states in which it has jurisdiction, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has found such laws to be constitutional.
A factor in the Revolutionary War was the fact that certain laws only applied to the American colonies and not the rest of the British Empire. As such, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that laws would be equally applied to all states so as not to be unfair.
The Supreme Court should have never let the preclearance aspect of the Voting Right Act apply in the first place, but it got so caught up in the necessity of the civil rights movement that it allowed the preclearance part to slip by.
The first time the Supreme Court allowed it is forgivable due to the fact that most of the Voting Rights Act was needed immediately.
However, after some time had passed and the Supreme Court looked at the law more closely, the preclearance sections should have been struck down. Not to mention the fact that Congress renewed the law multiple times without an amendment.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will get it right this time and ensure that this law applies equally and fairly to all by removing preclearance.
Trenton Winford is a junior public policy leadership major from Madison. Follow him on Twitter @tgwinford.