Why Section 3 Could Save the Voting Rights Act

Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act allows the federal government to require jurisdictions with recent records of discrimination to submit their election-law changes for clearance and could become a secret weapon, writes MSNBC's Adam Serwer. 

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MSNBC's Adam Serwer writes that Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act could save the law because it allows the federal government to require jurisdictions with recent records of discrimination to submit their election-law changes for clearance.

Voting rights advocates are testing whether a little-used provision of the Voting Rights Act could limit the damage of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the landmark civil rights law.

Hours after the Supreme Court's verdict was announced, representatives for the state of Texas celebrated its demise by announcing that they would move ahead with restrictive voting law changes that will disproportionately disenfranchise minorities. Those changes were previously blocked by the Justice Department, through a part of the Voting Rights Act the forces jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to submit their election law changes to Washington in advance, often referred to as "preclearance," under Section 5. Preclearance prevented discrimination in advance, rather than relying on drawn out litigation that might not be resolved until long after ballots are cast.

Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which the high court struck down as unconstitutional, determined which jurisdictions were covered by that requirement. But Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act allows the federal government to subject jurisdictions with recent records of deliberate discrimination to the preclearance requirement. With Congress polarized and unlikely to come together to fix Section 4′s coverage formula, Section 3 could become the primary tool for the Justice Department and voting rights activists seeking to patch the gaping hole left by the Supreme Court's verdict. Travis Crum, now a clerk for federal judge David S. Tatel, laid out this approach in an article for the Yale Law Journal in 2010, anticipating that the Supreme Court would someday strike down part of the Voting Rights Act. Crum called Section 3 the Voting Rights' Act's "secret weapon."

Read Adam Serwer's entire piece at MSNBC. 

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