June 27, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
The landmark legislation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been dealt a severe blow by the nation’s highest court forty-eight years after it was enacted, sparking outrage from the president, Black elected officials on Capitol Hill to Blacks leading the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.
“I am deeply troubled by the Supreme Court decision striking critical protections within the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck Section 4, a provision which outlines the formula federal officials have used to determine which states must clear new voting laws with the Department of Justice. This decision ignores the persistence of discrimination in voting and weakens a vital tool that has protected the right to vote for all Americans for nearly 50 years,” voiced Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43).
President Obama, whose historical victory in 2008 was cited in the ruling, was equally disappointed.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act - enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress - has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent,” he said in a recently released statement.
“As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while this decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Said Congresswoman Karen Bass, one of the president’s most avid supporters throughout his term, “The Supreme Court’s decision is an outrage that will only give legal cover to those who have been vigorously committed to undermining the rights of people of color to vote. It is simply incomprehensible and a slap in the face to people of color to think that the court would open the door to even more discriminatory behavior by gutting a key provision of the Civil Rights Act which has traditionally served as a critical check on these types of antics.
“It’s hard to find the legal rationale for such a decision so we are left to conclude that the court isn’t interested in justice for all Americans and would rather force a conservative ideological agenda at the expense of protecting the voting rights of people of color. Congress must now act and pass legislation to ensure the right to vote is protected for every American and it is up to the people of this country to rise up and make sure that Washington does its job and protects their rights as American citizens...”
“I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Diane Feinstein.
“The law successfully countered a century of aggressive limitations on minority voting. I believe Congress should move quickly to introduce new legislation to preserver voting rights for all Americans.”
Senator Barbara Boxer also weighed in stating, “The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of the clear evidence we continue to see of efforts to suppress the vote in minority communities across the country. It is devastating that the Court’s conservative majority would strike down a central provision of the law that has protected the voting rights of all Americans for nearly a half century, and was reauthorized by Congress almost unanimously just seven years ago. I’ll be working with my Senate colleagues to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American can participate fully in our democracy.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision this morning is deeply disappointing and a devastating blow to the preservation of voter rights and protections,” added Congresswoman Janice Hahn.
“The Voting Rights Act has proven to be critical time and time again in protecting the right to vote, free from discrimination. I wish that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, but the fact is, this persistent discrimination is not a thing of the past. We have seen far too many cases, in just the last election, of efforts to block fellow Americans from casting a ballot.”
Speared by defiant conservative and Reagan appointee Associate Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia, the new ruling will free nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.
The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.
Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins blasted the court.
“Just because the court rules something doesn’t make it right. For the Supreme Court to say that the Act is outdated and unnecessary, it’s just not true. A good example would be... let’s take last year’s election when Barack Obama ran. An African American was poised to win the election for the mayor’s race, I believe it was in Alabama and they cancelled the election,” said Jenkins.
“Let’s take Florida. The only reason they moved Sunday voting is because that’s when black people went to the polls. These are blatant attempts to control the Black vote.”
States that are covered by Section 4 include: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota are also covered.
The Voting Rights Act was created to protect disenfranchised Blacks, mostly in the South who endured unfair voter tests given to them by the state.
“Look at the redistricting in Texas,” Jenkins continued.
“They got five new seats. Those new seats were a result of the rise in population of Hispanics and African Americans. When they redid those seats, they ended up giving African Americans and Hispanics just two out of five of those seats and they kept the others for themselves (white conservatives). They went through surgical maneuvering in order to put minorities in one or two districts.”
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was renewed with amendments and after similar concerns arose in 2009, but Congress did nothing.
The Voting Rights Act was instrumental in the federal court blocking voter ID laws in both Texas and South Carolina because of the effect it would have on minority voters. South Carolina’s voter ID laws were later approved after an agreement was made to lessen its effect on minority voters. The court also blocked early-voting laws in Florida that tried to limit early-voting days to almost half as many days. Because of the statistic that African Americans were more likely to vote early than Whites, the limitation was struck down.
According to statistics provided by the NAACP, 362 restrictive bills that were introduced in 2011 and 180 restrictive bills in 2012 would restrict the number of people that were able to vote nationwide. These statistics were important to show the need of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and to paint a picture of how it will be without that formula.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does still exist, but according to Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, “In practice, the other section of the law - Section 5 - is dormant.” Chief Justice also wrote that striking down Section 4 “in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
Twenty-four year old Sentinel intern Shonassee Shaver remembers that historical election of 2008 and how it impacted her life.
“It was the first time I participated in the voting process, Barack Obama versus John McCain. The lines were long and people where in a frenzy about the opportunity to elect the first Black president,” Shaver said.
“I know now that I participated in history, but my immediate concern is for those who may not have the same opportunity after the Supreme Court ruling.”
“According to a recent Census Bureau report in 2012, African-Americans voted at a higher rate (66.2 percent) than non-Hispanic Whites (64.1 percent) for the first time since the Census Bureau started publishing voting rates by eligible citizenship population in 1996. These gains can be attributed to the many activists and public officials who mobilized their communities to push back against stringent voter suppression laws that were being adopted in Republican-led state legislatures across the country. These policies and measures included voting restrictions effecting college voters, the elderly, and ex-felons,” added Rep. Waters.
Rep. Waters pointed to 2006, “I was proud to join an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans who recognized that protecting the fundamental right to vote remains an urgent priority. Counting the votes in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, Congress voted by a margin of 488-33 to reauthorize the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the court struck down. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court decided that its five votes outweighed the voice and the will of the American people.
“This decision requires that Congress act swiftly and with urgency to protect voters and address the persistent threat of voter discrimination. Despite partisan gridlock in Congress, we proved in 2006 that protecting the right to vote is a bipartisan goal. I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that the right to vote remains a reality for everyone.”
Nicole Williams contributed to this report.