The Supreme Court wisely resisted an opportunity to tear the heart out of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. On Monday, it refused to strike down the "preclearance" section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. This vital provision requires the Justice Department to approve changes to voting procedures in states or jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination.
Opponents say so much racial progress has been made in the last few decades that preclearance is an obsolete relic of the civil rights era. Not quite yet.
In 2006 extensive hearings in Congress showed that minority voters still face significant challenges in some states. Congress approved renewal of the law by a 390-33 vote in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.
The justices voted 8-1 to uphold the law, dodging the temptation to make a decision that would have pleased some conservatives at the expense of legislative prerogatives and minority voters. The lone exception was Clarence Thomas. The ruling allows the plaintiff – a small municipal district in Texas – to petition for removal from the preclearance process, but it leaves the Voting Rights Act intact. This approach offers fairness to all sides and protects those who remain vulnerable to wrongful procedural changes in voting.
In the name of "states' rights," the Supreme Court showed far less fairness to William G. Osborne, who was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and sexual assault in Alaska but claims DNA testing may prove his innocence. Alaska is one of the few states that has no DNA testing law. No prisoner in Alaska has ever obtained DNA evidence for testing.
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