House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment on the court’s ruling; his office instead referred inquiries to the Judiciary and House Administration panels.
Yet partisan and ideological battle lines had formed within hours of the ruling.
“As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don’t have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Meanwhile, Republicans hailed the decision as putting the brakes on what they view as overzealous actions on the part of the Obama administration in blocking states’ ability to regulate their own election processes.
“No longer will any Justice Department be able to misuse the Voting Rights Act concerning such common-sense measures as voter identification laws,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley did, however, describe himself as “open to looking at ways to address the issues addressed in the court’s decision.”
A failure or refusal to act is not without political risk, particularly if it encourages state and local governments to enact new provisions that tamp down minority voting.
“What we saw in 2012 was that a systematic attempt to suppress voters can rebound against the suppressors,” said former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Although Republicans would disagree with Messina’s characterization of their intent, Obama strategists say the fear was great enough among young and minority voters that it encouraged them to make an extra effort to get to the polls. That paid off for the president’s reelection effort in such crucial battlegrounds as Florida and Ohio, they said.
“Some people want to say that the election of President Barack Obama is a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream. I say no, it’s a down payment. We are not there yet. Racism is still deeply embedded in every corner and of every fiber of our society,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a revered figure of the civil rights movement.
Meanwhile, areas of the country subjected to federal scrutiny under the act say they have been unfairly stigmatized, rather than given credit for the gains they have made toward equality.
“Our data today is better than a lot of people who are not subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” said former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican.
Some predict, however, that the vacuum created by the court’s decision will create opportunities to roll back those gains — especially in low-profile, local elections, which often go below the national radar and where experts say the Civil Rights Act has had its greatest impact.
“The creativity of discrimination is fairly infinite when you don’t have a referee or a judge to make sure you play fair,” said Don Fowler, a South Carolinian and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “I view this as a really damaging blow to the sense of fairness and integrity in Southern states. I just think it opens the door to turn the clock way back.”
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.