Michigan Law prof Ellen Katz calls it "consequential" in her commentary at SCOTUSblog. From her post:
Shelby County’s greatest import may lie in this supposition – namely, the majority’s belief that the validity of the coverage formula requires that those subject to preclearance currently engage in the sort of defiant obstructionism that made the VRA necessary in the first instance.
But specific acts traceable to public officials openly bent on denying norms of equality capture but a portion of the ways racial discrimination operates today. Put differently, the conditions that made preclearance necessary in the first instance have shaped the modern landscape in ways that create distinct opportunities for more subtle forms of discrimination, including intentional discrimination, to thrive. Many or even most public officials may act without ill will, but still intentional discrimination from some and the implicit biases of many may generate substantial obstacles for minority voters in the political process. Today’s decision makes clear that such obstacles are insufficient to justify the coverage formula and an operational preclearance regime.
Former Michigan Law prof Rick Pildes, now at NYU School of Law, has called some pre-opinion reactions to Shelby "hyperbolic." In a SCOTUSblog post yesterday he describes the deep divisions about what the Voting Rights Act symbolizes:
To those who will be distraught, outraged, or fearful, the essential question at stake in the Court’s decision – and in the continuing vitality of Section 4 — is whether we believe racial discrimination in voting still exists in the South. The question being framed this way, the Court’s decision today will appear to be, at best, a denial of reality and a reflection of a naïve “post-racial” view that in the Obama era, racial discrimination in voting has ended. Justice Sotomayor, at oral argument, perfectly reflected this perspective on what the decision represents when she posed this pointed question to the VRA’s challengers: “Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?” The answer to that question must be no. From this vantage point, then, as long as racial discrimination in voting still does take place at all in the South, Section 4 of the VRA – the part the Court invalidated – remains not just justifiable, but essential.
In addition, to many people, the VRA symbolizes protection of the crown jewel of rights, the right of access to the ballot box. For those who know the history, this right was born from the blood and the bodies of all those who had been given the last full measure of their devotion to secure full access for all to the ballot box – those beaten on the bridge from Selma, Alabama in 1965, the three civil rights workers lynched in the Mississippi summer of 1964, and many others. How can the Court find unconstitutional an Act that plays any role at all in ensuring political equality regarding this most sacred right? And why should the Court second-guess Congress on these issues?
Yet to others, including the Court’s pivotal actor, Justice Kennedy, the essential question at stake is whether our political system is frozen in place on issues concerning race. Do our political institutions and culture have the capacity to recognize that dramatic changes at the intersection of race and voting have taken place over recent decades? Section 4 was created in 1965 as a short-term measure for five years; in initially upholding that system, the Court called it “an uncommon exercise of congressional power” justified by the “exceptional circumstances” of the massive disfranchisement of black voters (and many poor whites) that existed when the VRA was enacted. In 1970, Congress extended this system for another five years; in 1975, for another eight; and in 1982, for twenty-five more years. Then, in 2006, in the provision the Court struck down, Congress re-authorized this system for another twenty-five years, until 2031. Thus we moved from a five-year regime in 1965 for exceptional circumstances to a sixty-six-year regime that continues to single out nine states (and fifty-three other counties) for unique federal control.
Pildes concludes that President Obama is uniquely situated to "cut through these radically irreconcilable meanings of the Court’s decision and lead forward on these explosive issues."