When the 1965 Voting Rights Act was originally passed, Section 2 merely reinforced 15th Amendment protections against racial discrimination in voting. But a revision in 1982 mandated the creation of majority-minority voting districts under certain circumstances in order to ensure that “protected populations”–groups that have been historically discriminated against, have access to the political process.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled in Bartlett v. Strickland that minority-majority voting districts are only mandated under Section 2 if the minority population in a given county reaches 50%. The case was being fought because the legislature in North Carolina wanted to split Pender County to create a legislative district with a substantial minority population, and North Carolina has a law prohibiting the “splitting” of counties to create such districts.

Basically the ruling makes it harder for majority minority districts to be created, and therefore in a worst case scenario dilutes the ability of black voters to have an effect on the political process. It isn’t the end of the world, but it does set up additional obstacles to the creation of voting districts where minorities wield more power to affect the outcome.

There is a much bigger case coming up, in which the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which says areas that have traditionally discriminated against minority voters have to clear their election law changes with the Justice Department first. The voting rights folks I’ve talked to have cautioned against using this ruling to predict what will happen with Section 5, but in some ways it’s hard not to.

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