No decision on affirmative action, but Thursday a possibility

National Constitution Center

Supreme Court watchers were disappointed on Monday when the justices didn’t issue decisions in two high-profile cases involving affirmative action and voting rights. But that doesn’t mean a decision won’t happen this week.

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The cases of Fisher v. University of Texas (affirmative action) and Shelby County v. Holder (voting rights) are among the most prominent and controversial issues in front of the justices this term.

The court also has potential landmark cases involving same-sex marriage and gene patents to announce in June, as well as a high-profile adoption case, a case involving payments and generic drugs, and an Arizona voter ID case.

Related Story: The Supreme Court scorecard

The court is expected to announce additional decisions this Thursday, and it could add extra decision days to deal with a potential logjam of big cases. Officially, for now, the Supreme Court is expected to announce its final decisions for the term on June 25, but the court could add an extra day in the last week of June.

The affirmative action case was argued last October and is the last one from that session that hasn’t seen a public ruling by the court, which led to speculation that it could be the first of the high-profile cases to be announced.

But the court decided in late March 2013 to hear a second affirmative action case, in its next term (which starts in October 2013) about an affirmative action suit in Michigan.

The ruling in the Shelby Voting Rights Act case will get its fair share of publicity.

Shelby County, Alabama, filed suit in district court, claiming that Section 5 and Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional. Two courts then ruled that those sections were constitutional.

Section 5 prohibits selected districts and states from changing to their election laws and procedures without getting official approval, or preclearance, from the federal government. Section 4(b) defines the districts as having had a voting test in place as of November 1, 1964, with less than 50 percent turnout for the 1964 presidential election.

During those February hearings, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court didn’t appear to be swayed by arguments by the Obama administration to keep the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the law.

That provision requires all or parts of 16 states, including virtually the entire Southern region of the United States, to get Justice Department approval before changing election districts, voting rules, and polling locations.

Section 5 made headlines in 2012 when the Justice Department used it to block voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, two states that were under the preclearance doctrine.

In the past two decades, Justice Department officials have used Section 5 to block more than 2,000 proposed voting changes in the preclearance states.

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