Hocus Scotus: News from the Supremes

Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. This is the formula used to determine which states and localities need preclearance before changing their voting laws.

Watch the video of Mrs. Hamer addressing the Democratic National Convention in 1964 on voting rights, before she was cut off by an “emergency press conference” from President Johnson’s White House aimed at getting her off national television.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the court invalidated the formula — adopted most recently in 2006 — used to determine which states had to get federal approval for changes in their voting laws. The law applied to sixteen jurisdictions (nine states plus parts of seven other states) and required any changes in voting laws or procedures in the covered jurisdictions to be approved in advance by the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C. A jurisdiction with a clean record for 10 years was permitted to be excused from the mandate. With this new ruling, citizens can bring their court case of voting irregularities only after the election is completed, rather than raising a flag about discriminatory laws in advance of an election.

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DOMA Left Out in the Cold, Obama Administration Won’t Defend

The Obama administration is bowing out of the fight to maintain a constitutional definition of marriage as one man and one woman. It will no longer defend DOMA, a law the administration thinks is unjust.

The Justice Department announced this afternoon that it will drop all its legal involvements with Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419 (aka the falsely named “Defense of Marriage Act”) passed in 1996 that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

This is the law that was signed under Clinton (along with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military) that mandated the federal government to define marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman (DOMA, Section 3). Attorney General Eric Holder said this afternoon:

Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law. But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.” Read the whole statement here.

The Obama administration has been strongly in favor of civil and equal rights for gays and lesbians, but was forced to act as “the government” in many lawsuits aimed at proving DOMA unconstitutional.

With today’s declaration, the administration is bowing out of the fight. It will no longer defend a law it thinks is unjust. It’ll let the states and lower courts work it out.

And, for a powerful video on a similar issue in the Iowa House of Representatives, watch The Hawkeye Kid defend his moms.