Two landmark decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court last week could have serious implications for North Carolina. Justices struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, leaving southern states free to pursue changes to election law without prior federal approval. The court also struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, saying that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
Neil Siegel, a professor of law and political science at Duke University said on The State of Things that the argument over the Voting Rights Act as it relates to North Carolina would be better served by research.
“I think this is an area in which it would be very nice to have more data and more evidence,” he said.
He says there is not clear evidence on whether minorities in the state are being disenfranchised by voter laws.
Jeanette Doran, executive director and general counsel for the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law said that when it comes to the Votings Rights Act, there is still plenty of teeth to the law. Some worry that the weakened Voting Rights Act wouldn’t protect against efforts like a Voter ID law, which may be used to disenfranchise certain voters. Proponents say the Voting ID law is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Others say that Voter ID wouldn’t stop fraud related to absentee ballots, one of the areas where fraud is most likely. They argue that this fact shows the move is a cynical one on the part of conservatives to prevent certain people from voting, and that would be unconstitutional. Doran said that wasn't a compelling argument.
“Just because the legislation doesn’t address every form of voter fraud, doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional,” Doran said.
In addition to the Votings Rights Act and DOMA decisions, the high court also refused to consider a case relating to California’s Proposition 8 referendum. The law passed in 2008, making gay marriage illegal but was later declared unconstitutional by a lower court. State officials refused to take the case further, leaving it dead in the water, but a group of individuals decided to take on the case and appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said the issue died when state officials declined to pursue further action. The Court’s refusal to act leaves gay marriage legal in California.
Irving Joyner, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University, said it is up to states to protect individual rights, and this ruling leaves places like California with the right to do so.
“The law gives the states the rights to make that determination,” he said. “…Are there rights for the minority view that should be respected and protected by the law?”
He added that he thinks that the state should protect the rights of minority opinions.
Michael Munger, a professor of political science, economics and public policy at Duke University, said that the political implications for both decisions could be interesting, but that the government still has to straddle a tough divide.
“A big problem in a democracy is that you have to balance two things,” Munger said. “The will of the majority and the rights of individuals.”
Audio for this segment will be posted by 3 p.m.