The United States Supreme Court began its 2011-2012 term on October 1 and is expected to make some historic rulings on major laws pertaining to Immigration, Civil Rights, and Affirmative Action over the next few months.
One of those cases will address the Court’s interpretation of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As over 26 states have passed strict voter identification laws, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued on the grounds that these laws violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court is now poised to make a judgment on this contentious issue.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires states and voting jurisdictions with a clear history of voter discrimination get federal approval from the DOJ before they can implement any new voting practices or procedures. In other words, the states have a burden to prove that these new practices will not have a discriminatory purpose or effect on voters.
The 26 states that have passed these new voter ID laws claim their primary purpose is to crack down on “voter fraud.” However, the DOJ disputes this claim citing that there is no clear evidence of widespread voter fraud but there is very clear evidence that these new voter ID laws could disproportionately curtail voting especially amongst people of color, as well as poorer and elderly citizens.
Indirectly related to the DOJ’s challenge to the various voter ID laws is whether or not Arizona’s new law requiring a person to show proof of citizenship before they can register to vote conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. That law allows any eligible voter to complete a federal voter registration form which asks whether he or she is a United States citizen. If anyone incorrectly identifies themselves as a US citizen then they will be subject to charges of perjury. Arizona, by implementing its own rules to show proof of citizenship before one can register, is directly challenging this nearly 20 year old federal law.
Another critical Supreme Court case centers around whether or not individual states can base college admission standards on affirmative action. In the case Fisher v. University of Texas former white undergraduate applicant, Abigail Fisher, contends that she was unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin (UT) because of reverse racial discrimination. UT has argued that Ms. Fisher did not meet the school’s normal admission standards and that it is free to admit a varied and diverse student body as a part of its overall academic and societal mission statement, which includes granting preferential treatment to students with specific racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in the landmark case, Grutter v. Bollinger, that a public college and/or university had the right to consider such matters of racial diversity when establishing its own admission standards. That decision is now at risk of being overruled as the current Supreme Court Justices review this new case.
Finally, in what is sure to be one of the more publicly discussed decisions in recent history, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether or not same sex couples can legally marry and/or be denied the same marital benefits as non-same sex couples. This ruling may decide whether or not the Defense of Marriage of Act (DOMA) of 1996 is constitutional. Yet there are several other outstanding cases the Court can elect to review in order to make a decision on this issue including a lower court ruling that overturned a California statewide ballot initiative, Proposition 8, which denied same-sex couples the right to marry.