Byline: The Register-Guard
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold a key provision of the Voting Rights Act provides a fine example of the judicial "modesty" that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. embraced during his confirmation hearing.
By an 8-1 vote, the court wisely refused to strike down the "preclearance" section of the act, Section 5, which requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before changing election procedures.
The decision came as a surprise, because Roberts and other conservatives on the court seemed inclined during oral arguments to strike down Section 5's protections for minorities. Only Justice Clarence Thomas, the sole black member of the court, voted to remove this pillar of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Congress approved the act in 1965 to prevent states from discriminating against minority voters through such tactics as arbitrarily redrawing district boundaries or putting polling places in hard-to-reach locations.
The court majority concluded that Congress deserved judicial deference when it voted in 2006 to extend Section 5 for another 25 years after gathering extensive evidence of the need for continued federal oversight. That's appropriate, since Congress has both a clear constitutional authority and obligation to act to protect the right of minorities to vote. The 14th Amendment, adopted after the end of the Civil War, makes clear that blacks are to have full and equal rights, and the 15th Amendment states that the right to vote cannot be denied or abridged based on race. …