Voting Rights: Held: Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.
State legislation may not contravene federal law. States retain broad autonomy, however, in structuring their governments and pursuing legislative objectives. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment reserves to the States all powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government, including “the power to regulate elections.” Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U. S. 452, 461–462. There is also a “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among the States, which is highly pertinent in assessing disparate treatment of States.
The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles. It requires States to beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own. And despite the tradition of equal sovereignty, the Act applies to only nine States (and additional counties).
That is why, in 1966, this Court described the Act as “stringent” and “potent,” Katzenbach, 383 U. S., at 308, 315, 337. The Court nonetheless upheld the Act, concluding that such an “uncommon exercise of congressional power” could be justified by “exceptional conditions.” Id., at 334.
In 1966, these departures were justified by the “blight of racial discrimination in voting” that had “infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century,” Katzenbach, 383 U. S., at 308.
The Act was limited to areas where Congress found “evidence of actual voting discrimination,” and the covered jurisdictions shared two characteristics: “the use of tests and devices for voter registration, and a voting rate in the 1964 presidential election at least 12 points below the national average” (U.S.S.Ct., 25.06.2013, Shelby County v. Holder, C.J. Roberts).