On the day Barack Obama was reelected, the Supreme Court featured oral argument on technical legal questions, including, quite literally, the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin. Outside the chamber, the two major-party candidates elaborately declined to discuss the court. Inside the chamber, the charade of political unconcern was equally elaborate.
Friday, the charade was dropped. Late in the day, the court granted review in Shelby County v. Holder, a direct challenge to a key part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The court's decision in the case will give us a clue to how the conservative majority has reacted to the Democratic victory and the changing face of politics. Its decision to grant review immediately after the returns were in signals -- intentionally or otherwise -- that the court will remain an important political player in the transformed landscape of Washington.
Simply put, the question in Shelby County is whether the court will allow Congress to use its textual power under § 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment, or will the justices decide that they know best where the threats to the right to vote come from in the 21st century.
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