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The Next Citizens United? The Voting Rights Act Is In Supreme Court’s Crosshairs

The Court will review a case that could gut the landmark civil rights era law.

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“The Court will focus specifically on the question whether Congress exceeded its power in not updating the coverage formula—states and parts of states are covered based on voter turnout and the use of a test or device in 1964, 1968, or 1972,” Hasen blogged.  “The argument is that Congress couldn’t use those proxies anymore to identify states which still need additional federal oversight…  Further, the references to the 10th amendment power of the states and the republican form of government clause show a great concern about federalism and states rights.”

The Supreme Court under Roberts has shifted power back to states on some key questions, most notably saying in its Obamacare decision that states did not have to follow the federal government’s rules for expanding the Medicaid portions of that law.  

The Obama Administration had urged the Court to reject the case. Citing lower-court litigation, it argued, “the court of appeals correctly applied settled legal principles in reviewing the 15,000-page legislative record, determining that Congress correctly identified a pervasive constitutional problem, and concluding that Congress’s reauthorization of Section 5 (including its maintenance of the existing coverage scope) was a congruent and proportional means of enforcing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”

This case will be one of the legal blockbusters in 2013 and the outcome will be a striking counterpoint to however Congress responds to the long lines seen in many sates on Election Day—a symptom of deeper problems in our voting system—that President Obama said had to be fixed in his victory speech on Tuesday.

“I don’t expect statesmanship or blinking from Court conservatives this time,” Hasen blogged.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).