New Supreme Court Rulings and Michigan Voter Rights

imagesCAO6Z0PKIt’s been a rough couple of years for voting rights in Michigan, and today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, combined with last week’s, isn’t helping.

The Snyder Administration started the assault with its now infamous Emergency Manager law early in 2011, which effectively violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for a whopping 52 percent of the state’s communities of color.

Last week, Michigan further eroded the democratic process by passing two new laws that allow the state to dissolve fiscally distressed school districts which, much like the emergency management scheme, may disproportionately impact minority neighborhoods.

Michigan lawmakers have additional legislation in the wings to codify the Educational Achievement Authority — another Snyder scheme to remove academically struggling school districts from local control and put them under the strict authority of a state appointed chancellor — again affecting primarily disenfranchised minority districts.

Last week, many Michigan democrats prematurely lauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down an Arizona law that required voters to provide proof of citizenship at the polls — they erroreously hoped it would likewise strike down Michigan’s law. But, the Michigan law only requires voters to “affirm” their citizenship not prove it, a measure meant to intimidate minority voter turn out, but not prevent them from voting once arrived.

Today’s high court ruling striking-down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does impact Michigan, among other states to varying degrees:


The provision of the act the court struck down, in a 5-4 vote along partisan lines, was the section that required states with a history of voter discrimination to gain federal approval prior to any changes to the way they hold elections. The remainder of the Voting Rights Act still stands.

Readers of Democracy Tree may recall that the Voting Rights Act recently became an issue with the passing of those new laws that would allow state take-over of smaller schools, in particular, Beuna Vista Schools, a district which resides in an area receiving special protection under that federal act. (Note: the Voting Rights Act has also been an ongoing legal argument against emergency management.)

However, neither of those Michigan laws — the Emergency Manager and the dissolution of school districts, are directly impacted by today’s Supreme Court decision. Both of these egregious laws only impair voting rights post facto, meaning voters are not impeded from going to the polls, but their decisions are nullified by law after the fact.

Today’s Supreme Court decision was argued on the fact that the voter data supporting the Voting Rights Act was based on dated information, deemed no longer applicable, however the court did not rule against the premise of the law itself, meaning if Congress acts to produce new legislation, employing current data, that could be upheld.

Democracy Tree is not holding their breath.

Amy Kerr Hardin 

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