Tag Archives: 1965 Voting Rights Act

Who's Afraid of the Voting Rights Act?

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems to have caught the civil rights community by surprise. The high court affirmed, for the time being, the validity of Section Five of the Act, which requires a pre-clearance before a municipality covered by it can bail out of it. The decision, however, seems to have raised as many questions as it answered.

The court allowed a Texas jurisdiction covered by the Voting Rights Act to opt out, largely because it had no past history of discrimination against black voters.

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At the same time, they punted on the constitutionality of the Act itself. Maybe that’s because Congress passed an extension back in 2006, and  an 8-1 majority decided they didn’t want to be the ones that struck it down. The ruling did allow for challenges in the future, and make no mistake, those will come, and come quickly.

There are those who would argue that the election of Barack Obama makes the Voting Rights Act obsolete (knock wood, the court wasn’t one of them).

What nonsense! One need only look at various attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass voter ID laws to realize that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and the poor are alive and well.

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Chief Justice Roberts was right when he said “The South has changed”. That, however, would mandate an update of Section 5, not gutting the Act itself.

Isn’t it ironic that some of the same politicians who criticize President Obama for not being forceful enough in speaking out about elections in Iran want to gut a law that provided for free and fair elections here?

And what specific harm has the Voting Rights Act done to America?

Has it disenfranchised Americans, as was the practice of many jurisdictions prior to 1965? Has the Justice Dept. been accused of using Section Five (or any other section for that matter) in an arbitrary manner?

No, the effort here, and on the part of some conservatives in Congress, was to eviscerate the Act before the redistricting that will come with next year’s census. Some states, free of the Act and on the brink of passing voter ID laws, could draw legislative lines that could make it that much more difficult to elect people of color. Some of those places are not in the South. But then, the Voting Rights Act didn’t just cover the South.

I’ve posted my personal mea culpa on this blog in the past to those who sounded the alarm about the Act back before Congress extended it. It wasn’t that I thought it wasn’t needed, I just never thought Congress would let it lapse without renewal. I may have been right about that, but I was wrong about the need for continued vigilance. If the recent p;ast has taught us anything, it’s that taking rights for granted can sometimes lead to them vanishing before our eyes.

What do you think? Was Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act a victory?

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SCOTUS Minimus? Are all blacks entitled to vote in all states?

Memo to those who tend to minimize Supreme Court nominations: They matter! A number of recent 5-4 decisions… bears this out.

Right now the high court is dealing with a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Those folks who have been warning for the past decade that the act is in jeopardy now see their worst fears possibly borne out.

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At issue is one central provision of the act, the one that says certain states and municipalities must get federal approval prior to changes in voting procedures. This provision, known as Section 5, applies specifically to a number of southern states that in 1965 had a history of disenfranchising black voters. When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they left the criteria for determining states included in Section 5 intact.

It is this hinge on which those who would gut the act now hang their hats. Make no mistake. It’s entirely possible, even likely this will be yet another 5-4 vote, this time in favor of finding Section 5 unconstitutional.

In questioning Wednesday, even those justices who are leaning toward that position are careful not to minimize the overall positive impact of the act. Instead, justices are asking questions about sovereignty. Is the sovereign dignity of Alabama, covered under Section 5 less than that of Ohio, which isn’t?

The Voting Rights Act was one piece of American legislation that moved this country out of the shadow of its racist legacy. It guaranteed a fundamental right of citizenship to those who were denied it simply because of the color of their skin. While it’s true that great strides have been made, there have been naked efforts over the past few years to erode those very same rights.

Voter ID laws, the abrupt closure of polling sites without proper notice to voters and other attempts at backdoor disenfranchisement still exist.

One wonders if the court will consider whether the federal government has ever abused its power under Section 5. Are there concrete examples of the government tyranny in considering states and cities changes to voting laws? (BTW, parts of New York City fall under Section 5). There is also a bailout provision that some counties in Virginia have already used.

So why gut the Voting Rights Act? Why not leave Section 5 intact, with a strong recommendation that Congress review its provisions with an eye toward updating them periodically? Theoretically, that could happen, but right now it doesn’t appear it will.

What do you think. Post a comment here. Should the Supreme Court blow up the 1965 Voting Rights Act?

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