A supporter of the North Carolina NAACP holds stickers for those gathered in the House chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly, Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Three lawsuits have been filed challenging North Carolina’s new voter suppression law, which I called the worst in the nation and Rick Hasen says is the most restrictive since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Now comes the question: Will the challenges be successful? Here are three factors that will decide the outcome in North Carolina and the future of the VRA and voting rights more broadly.
1. Can Section 2 replace Section 5 of the VRA?
Conservatives opposed to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act strenuously made the argument before and after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder that Section 2 was an adequate replacement for Section 5, which forced states with the worst history of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government. “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in Section 2,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority. Testifying before the House, Hans van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation called Section 2 “the heart of the VRA” and said “there’s no reason for Congress to take any action” to resurrect Section 5 with a new coverage map.
This is a clever and disingenuous marketing job. In truth, Section 2 has been used mostly to challenge at-large election schemes and to protect majority-minority districts during redistricting, and has been narrowed in recent years by the Supreme Court, most recently in Bartlett v. Strickland in 2009. The Department of Justice hasn’t filed a Section 2 lawsuit since 2009 and no major voting restrictions were blocked under Section 2 during the last election. It’s difficult to challenge voting changes before they go into effect under Section 2 and the cases often take years and millions of dollars to defend. “This is one of the fixes we need from Congress,” says Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “We need some better, clearer standards for Section 2. The law is not well-developed.” Moreover, the more cases that are filed under Section 2, the more likely it is that anti-VRA conservatives will challenge its constitutionality.