As States Rush to Restrict Voting Rights, Justice Ginsburg Says I Told You So

In the month since the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, Texas, Florida and North Carolina are working on rules designed to make it harder to vote. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, is not surprised.

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In the month since the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, Texas, Florida and North Carolina are working on rules designed to make it harder to vote. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, is not surprised. "I didn't want to be right, but sadly I am," she told the Associated Press' Mark Sherman.

When the Shelby verdict was handed down the day after a less-sweeping decision on affirmative action, The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse postulated that Ginsburg, who dissented in both, was expressing regret for signing on with a 2009 decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts expressed great skepticism about the VRA's Section 5 — "things have changed in the South" — but did not strike it down. "Why did the liberal justices sign on to the Northwest Austin opinion in 2009? Clearly, it was the price of the compromise to buy the Voting Rights Act a little more time," Greenhouse writes.

In her interview with the Associated Press, Ginsburg indicates that's what happened. "I think in the first voting rights case, there was a strong impetus to come down with a unanimous decision with the thought that maybe Congress would do something about it before we had to deal with it again... But I suppose with the benefit of hindsight, I might have taken a different view." Congress did not act then. It looks unlikely Congress will act now. Here's what the states are doing to take advantage of that.

North Carolina

On Thursday night, North Carolina's legislature passed a voter ID bill that now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk for signature. It's a set of changes to its voting laws that, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum writes, are "astonishing" in their scope:

  • Require voter ID at polling places.
  • Reduce the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days.
  • Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day even in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines. (Those in line at closing time would still be allowed to vote.)
  • Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18.
  • Outlaw paid voter registration drives.
  • Eliminate straight-ticket voting.
  • Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct.
  • Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered.

One amendment that failed? Allowing people without a photo ID to cast a ballot if they could meet the requirements for mail-in absentee ballots, WRAL explains. Democratic voters tend to use early voting, while Republican voters tend to use absentee voting. A Justice Department lawsuit to stop the new law is possible, The Washington Post reports.


On Wednesday, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit that said a purge of voter rolls in Florida would have to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department under the VRA. Since the pre-clearance formula has been found unconstitutional, the lawsuit is moot. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in court filings the state would resume the purge, the Associated Press reports, lifting a five-month-old stay that blocked the state from giving the names of people it suspected weren't citizens to county election officials.

Last year, some of the names listed for removal were citizens. But now the state says its list will be accurate because it can access a national immigration database, the Associated Press reports. Florida Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings asked Gov. Rick Scott to stop the purge on Thursday.


Immediately after the Shelby County v. Holder decision, Texas announced it would go though with a voter ID law that was passed in 2011 but blocked by the Justice Department. The law requires a state-issued ID to vote (notably, a concealed-carry permit counts.) As The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump noted, the state's research showed that Latinos were less likely to have such an ID, so the law would keep more Latinos from voting than non-Latinos.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would ask a federal court in Texas to require the state to get pre-clearance for new voting laws. Holder also said the department would support a lawsuit by Texas Democrats that challenges the state's redistricting plan.

We should have seen this coming, the Supreme Court justice says. "The notion that because the Voting Rights Act had been so tremendously effective we had to stop it didn't make any sense to me," Ginsburg says. "And one really could have predicted what was going to happen."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.