March 15, 2013
"Equality of States" in the VRA Challenge
"Equality of the states" reared its head recently in oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the case testing congressional authority to reauthorize the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. The traditionally conservative Justices all (save Justice Thomas) expressed different concerns related to the provision's different treatment of the states--or, how preclearance violates the principle of "equality of the states." (Preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA applies only to covered jurisdictions under Section 4(b) of the VRA. Only covered jurisdictions, not all states, are required to preclear their election law changes with DOJ or the D.C. District court.)
But where does this idea of equality of the states come from?
David Gans over at the Constitutional Accountability Center draws on a recent piece by Adam Liptak and argues that Congress violates a principle of equality of the states all the time--most notably by providing dramatically different levels of funding, per capita, to different states. Nobody makes a constitutional case out of this.
Moreover, Gans argues that "[t]he Supreme Court has never interpreted the Constitution to require equality among the states outside the very narrow context of the admission of new states. It is now black letter law that 'the doctrine of equality of states . . . applies only to the terms upon which the states are admitted to the Union, and not to the remedies for local evils which have subsequently appeared.'"
For more on that point, and how the Court mangled the "equality of the states" quote in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, check out Zachary Price's contribution to the SCOTUblog symposium on Shelby County, and Federalism and the Voting Rights Act at the ACS blog.
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