U.S. Supreme Court Struck Down a Major Provision
This past Tuesday, June 25th, a divided 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court struck down a major provision (section 4) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The astonishing ruling in Shelby vs. Holder freed nine southern states to change their election laws without federal approval. At the heart of the controversial ruling was whether minorities continued to face barriers while voting in states with a pattern of racial discrimination.
Voting Rights Law was victoriously passed at the pinnacle of America’s turbulent civil rights movement. That time was marked by protests, bloody riots and even death at the hands of law enforcement officers and other hate groups committed to keeping Jim Crow laws and its practices alive, as citizens across U.S. southern states battled each other over whether or not a person’s skin color should allow them the legal right to vote their choice for democracy.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said, “Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure the legislation it passes must remedy the problem to speak to current conditions.”
Overall we should remember the American people still have a right to vote in this country. Truth is, citizens are distrustful of states with a history of racial discrimination when it comes down to protecting voting rights for minorities, and now these same states have no oversight and can easily rig the way people vote to exclude them from the process to give one party more numbers to win elections.
A Concerted Effort Has Been Made
Justice Ruth Ginsberg wrote in her dissent that Congress was the “right body” to decide whether the law was still needed and where. “For a half a century,” Ginsberg said, “a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, the progress, once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”
Ginsburg further ruled that the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” but now changed to “second-generation barriers like racial gerrymandering laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizeable black minority and the redrawing of redistricting lines that diluted minority voting.”
Ginsburg’s opinion regarding how a state’s redistricting lines weakens minority voting has credibility. Last August 2012, a federal court found that the redistricting maps in Texas violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority vote strength and discriminated against Hispanics and blacks.
Referring back to the Supreme Court ruling that eradicated important portions of Voting Rights, Justice Ginsburg concluded, “The court errs egregiously,” by overriding Congress’s decision.
What the Supreme Court decision does, is it prevents the Justice Department from interfering with mostly southern states, county and city government from changing their voting process without pre-clearance by the Justice Department. The ruling applies to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, including scores of counties and municipalities like Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.
Known for Its Racial Discriminatory Practices
Under the previous pre-clearance requirement, the targeted states, counties and city municipalities known for racial discriminatory practices had to request federal approval before changing election districts, amending voting rules or as simple as moving a polling location.
Section 5, the provision of (VRA) sets out the pre-clearance requirement, was originally scheduled to expire in five years. The Voting Rights Act has been renewed since 1970. Congress renewed the act in 2006 (390-33 in the House) after holding hearings about the continuing racial discrimination at the polls. The Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law in a 2009 decision “Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One vs. Holder.” In response in this case the Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act.
The decision did not strike down Section 5, but according to legal experts, without the support of Section 4, the latter is without significance, unless Congress passes a new bill to determine which states should be covered.
But two Congressmen say the only way to safeguard the right to vote without interference or amendment is to include voting rights into our constitution. Last month, Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced legislation to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
Unlike the Constitution that cannot be changed, Civil Rights law can be changed or amended, if any part outdates its use for selected enforcement. What is needed, the congressmen say, is to add the Affirmative Voting Rights Act into the Constitution to keep it from amended purposes. Both Congressmen recently unveiled the: Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make their case and say that the Civil Rights Bill, as we know it, is not fully enforced by the Constitution.
The Pocan-Ellison “Right to Vote” in the constitution would amend the constitution to provide Americans the affirmative right to vote and to empower Congress to protect this right. Without a constitutional provision, the congressmen argue, courts in recent years have upheld voter ID laws, burdensome registration requirements and have reduced early voting opportunities.
In a press release by Mr. Pocan announcing the new proposal, it stated: “Today’s Supreme Court decision is an assault on what should be our most fundamental right as Americans. While the Court is correct that current law to protect voters from discriminatory voting laws is outdated, it is because it’s not expansive enough. The right to vote is under attack across the country. Already in 2013, more than 30 states have introduced over 80 restrictive voting laws that often target low-income, student, elderly and minority voters.”
“The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy,” says Fairvote Executive Director Rob Richie. “Adding an affirmative right to vote to the U.S. Constitution is the best way to guarantee that the government, whether at the federal, state, or local level, cannot infringe upon our individual right to vote.”
Ruling Split Along Party Lines
Dissatisfaction and outrage over the VRA ruling split along party lines. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) said, “What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the former civil rights activist and current Congressman told ABC News.
President Obama characterized last week ruling as a “setback,” even as he vowed that his “administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Republican attorney Frank C. Ellis Jr. of Shelby County Alabama was elated. “If you’re imposing on sovereign states, cities and counties this extraordinary burden and departure from federalism – you’ve got to have current justification, not justification that’s 50 years ago.”
Texas Attorney General Republican Gregg Abbott expressed his views to PJ Media. “This is a huge win. The Voting Rights Act is the only law used to impose disparate or different kind of treatment and specifically,” Abbott added, “Texas was called out and treated differently than other states.” Abbott is referring to when the Obama administration shot down his suit requiring ID photos for voters.
According to Brennan Center For Justice, voting rights has been under assault for some time. The Center said over 80 bills have been introduced to restrict or amend voting in over 30 states. Still the nation may have missed the biggest picture in the equation: the court conservative majority, in their ruling, took advantage of a valuable gap in the Constitution. For example, Justice Antonin Scalia has preached to the American choir for years that: there is no Federal Constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for a president. (Scalia argued this point in Bush vs. Gore).
Fairvote.org reaffirms this view. “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution; individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voting registration requirements and ex-felon voting rights.”
Fairvote further opines, “As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts; all separate and unequal.”
Democrat Mark Pocan explains why the voting laws are at times so unbalanced and unfair to certain groups of people. “There are several amendments prohibiting the government from denying a person to vote based on specific factors like sex, race and age. For instance, according to Pocan, many states prevent felons from voting even after they served their sentences and had their rights restored – while some states require voters to live in a particular jurisdiction for a certain amount of time before they are eligible to vote.”
Pocan and Ellison’s Affirmative Right to Vote proposal states:
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service of this country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” Pocan previously said while visiting the state capitol in Madison Wisconsin, just when a team of Republicans were in a mad-dog rush to enact “voter identification” legislation for the 2012 presidential race.
“Affirmative Right to Vote is a must law to pass,” Pocan says, “Because we don’t have an inalienable right to vote, according to the constitution.”