Waiting for Shelby

June 19, 2013

Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svgSomehow, some way, the Supreme Court has managed to maintain its shroud of secrecy, despite being located in Washington, D.C. where government leaks are commonplace. Those with information like to talk (even as “unnamed sources”) but that’s not the way the Supreme Court operates.

As such, we don’t know what the Court will be announcing tomorrow. Much like waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican, we won’t know what’s coming until it’s actually given to us. Maybe they’ll release an opinion on Shelby County v. Holder, the case involving Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Maybe they won’t. We’ll find out tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then on Tuesday, and if not on Tuesday, then perhaps later next week.

In the meantime, however, groups have been speculating and gathering up info on the case, bracing for what might come if the preclearance provision is declared unconstitutional.

The Columbia Journalism Review has an exhaustive roundup of the case, linking to stories that provide background, while also providing state examples and a toolkit for reporters.

Colorlines has speculated that states have been holding off on instituting their restrictive voting laws, such as voter ID in Virginia, until the Court hands down its decision. Virginia’s strict law might not hold up through Department of Justice review (although a weaker voter ID bill was cleared by the DOJ last year), but depending on the outcome of the case, it might not have to.

Other states could jump into the fold and introduce their own restrictive voting laws without having to worry about preclearance, says the Brennan Center. In their report, If Section 5 Fails: New Voting Implications, Myrna Pérez and Vishal Agraharkar say that jurisdictions could re-enact changes that were previously struck down or deterred by Section 5 and adopt new restrictions, while in the process creating new barriers for voters, and particularly voters of color.

If Section 5 falls, democracy takes a huge, huge hit. Until we get the decision, though, all we can do is wait.