The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And § 4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States—an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting,
an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.South Carolina v. KatzenbachUS vol. 383 case 3011966 p. 309. As we explained in upholding the law,
exceptional conditions can justify legislative measures not otherwise appropriate.Id. p. 334. Reflecting the unprecedented nature of these measures, they were scheduled to expire after five years.See Voting Rights Act of 1965 § 4(a)Stat. vol. 79 p. 438.
Striking down an Act of Congress
is the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform.Blodgett v. HoldenUS vol. 275 case 1421927 p. 148Holmes, J., concurring. We do not do so lightly. That is why, in 2009, we took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act when asked to do so, and instead resolved the case then before us on statutory grounds. But, in issuing that decision, we expressed our broader concerns about the constitutionality of the Act. Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare § 4(b) unconstitutional. The formula in that section no longer can be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.
Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in § 2. We issue no holding on § 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions still exist justifying such an
extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.US vol. 502 case Pressley pp. 500–501. Our country has changed, and, while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
For the reasons stated, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.