Voting Rights Advocates Face Uphill Battle


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, civil rights organizations and voting rights advocates are preparing to battle against an expected avalanche of new voting laws to wipe out the incredible gains generated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The ruling effectively ended voting rights protections under section 5, forcing Congress to update the coverage formula that required nine states and the counties and jurisdictions in six other states to preclear any changes to state and local voting laws with the Justice Department or a federal court.

Writing the majority opinion for the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged that “voting discrimination still exists,” but challenged the relevancy of the section 4 coverage formula originally crafted nearly 50 years ago.

However, Congress has extended the law, saying it is still needed.

Hours after the Supreme Court decision, state officials in Texas and South Carolina announced that they were moving forward with new voting regulations that civil rights groups say will disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino and poor voters.

“All the states and jurisdictions that were covered by section 5 utilizing the section 4 formula have now been released,” said Hilary Shelton, Washington, D.C. bureau chief of the NAACP. In a June 2013 study released a few weeks before the Shelby County v. Holder decision, a Brennan Center for Justice report stated, “In the most recent legislative session and as of April 29, 2013, 28 restrictive voting bills were introduced in the states that are covered, wholly or in part, by Section 5.

Two have already passed, and 17 are still pending as of June 10, 2013. The bills introduced include, for example, a strict photo identification requirement in Virginia, restrictions on early voting and same-day registration in North Carolina, and a South Carolina bill requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, a civil rights think tank that works to advance racial justice in the United States and abroad, said that the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t about facts, or even about proof of ongoing voter discrimination in the once-covered states. Crenshaw said that the Supreme Court decision was about one thing – ideology.

“It’s like building a dam to keep the lowlands from flooding and for 40 years the lowlands don’t flood and then deciding that you don’t need the dam anymore,” said Crenshaw.

Voting rights advocates now will also lean heavily on section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but most admit that many laws will go into effect and lawsuits may not come fast enough.

“In essence this decision says that ‘discrimination is still real and must still be challenged,’ but rather than address the issue on the front end as preclearance allows. [The Supreme Court] says, ‘Let it happen. Let’s allow elections to go forward knowing that discrimination exists,” said Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. Many experts worry whether repairing the damage created by the recent decision is possible.

“The Supreme Court has vacated its authority and handed it over to a Congress that has been dysfunctional and unable to take decisive actions on the key moral issues of our time,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of the Florida New Majority, a grassroots civil rights organization.

The Department of Justice has also pledged to step up its efforts to protect voters. In a statement shortly after Shelby decision was released, the Attorney General Eric Holder said that even though our country has changed for the better since 1965, we still haven’t reached the destination that we seek.

“Although today’s decision represents a serious and unnecessary setback, the Justice Department remains committed to moving forward in manner that is consistent with the arc of American history which has always been a story of increasing equality inclusion and access to the franchise.”

Voting Rights Advocates Face Uphill Battle

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