VOTING RIGHTS AT RISK

ABSTRACT: Judicial activism by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court was on display on June 25 when by a 5 to 4 vote the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was ruled outdated and unnecessary despite: 1) Previous Supreme Court rulings upholding the law including as recently as 2009; 2) Use of the Voting Rights Act 74 times since 2000 to protect voting rights; 3) Re-enactment by Congress in 2006 by overwhelming, bipartisan votes; and 4) Extensive efforts in many of the covered states (and others) in the 2012 elections to interfere with voting rights at levels unseen for almost 50 years. The dissenting justices issued a strong critique of the decision.

It seems ironic that the Supreme Court, charged with ensuring justice in our society, has overturned the VRA, whose goal is to ensure justice for minorities in exercising that bedrock building block of our democracy, the right to vote.

The evidence for the need for the VRA has been quick in coming. Within a month after the Supreme Court decision, six states have passed or are implementing new voting requirements that will make it harder to vote. Most observers agree these requirements will disproportionately effect and reduce voting by minorities, low income individuals, the elderly, and the young. Although voter fraud will be cited as the reason for these efforts, cases of fraud are incredibly rare.

I encourage you to let your representatives in Congress know that you are outraged and that they need to pass legislation to reinstate the VRA immediately.

FULL POST: Judicial activism by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court was on display on June 25 when by a 5 to 4 vote the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was ruled outdated and unnecessary despite:

  • Previous Supreme Court rulings upholding the law including as recently as 2009
  • Use of the Voting Rights Act 74 times since 2000 to protect voting rights
  • Re-enactment by Congress in 2006 by overwhelming, bipartisan votes
  • Extensive efforts in many of the covered states (and others) in the 2012 elections to interfere with voting rights at levels unseen for almost 50 years.

The Court’s majority felt that in the covered jurisdictions – nine states, mostly in the South, and numerous smaller jurisdictions including sections of New York City – barriers to voting for racial minorities were no longer sufficient to justify the law.

The Supreme Court not only ignored its own precedents, it ignored the clear will of Congress on a law that has been in place for 48 years. The reauthorization of the VRA in 2006 passed the House by a vote of 390 to 33 and the Senate unanimously, 98 to 0, before being signed into law by President George W. Bush. It seems ironic that the Supreme Court, charged with ensuring justice in our society, has overturned the VRA, whose goal is to ensure justice for minorities in exercising that bedrock building block of our democracy, the right to vote. The VRA was a key achievement of the Civil Rights movement and a key to implementing the post-Civil War 15th Amendment, which prohibits denying the right to vote based on race.

The dissenting justices issued a strong critique of the decision, which Justice Ginsburg presented at the announcement of the ruling – an unusual event, indicating strong disagreement. She stated in part that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” [1]

The evidence for the need for the VRA has been quick in coming. Within a month after the Supreme Court decision, six states have passed or are implementing new voting requirements that will make it harder to vote. Most observers agree that these requirements will disproportionately effect and reduce voting by minorities, low income individuals, the elderly, and the young. Many, if not all, of these changes in voting laws would have been rejected by the US Justice Department under the VRA. Steps are being taken on the same path in other states. Although voter fraud will be cited as the reason for these efforts, cases of fraud are incredibly rare. [2]

North Carolina is poised to enact a requirement for an ID to vote, reductions in early voting, restrictions on voter registration, and increased opportunities to deny voters at the ballot box, among other provisions. This is a dramatic change for North Carolina, which, historically, has been a state where voting and registration were facilitated, and, where, as a result, voter participation has been high. The state’s own Secretary of State has acknowledged that the new laws will reduce voting by Blacks and Hispanics. [3] The new law will also increase campaign contribution limits, reduce disclosure of campaign activities, and repeal public financing for the election of judges, putting them and the state’s justice system at the mercy of large campaign contributions.

In Texas, a new voter ID law that was blocked by the Justice Department under the VRA will now go into effect. A revised map for election districts that had been blocked will now also go into effect. And in Florida, a purge of registered voters that had been blocked will now go forward, despite errors made in previous such purges. [4]

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the Justice Department or individuals will now have to file lawsuits challenging changes in voting procedures after the fact on a case by case basis, a much less timely and efficient remedy than the pre-approval of changes previously required by the VRA.

The fact that this Supreme Court decision abets the active and growing efforts to throw up barriers to voting that will disenfranchise minorities and those with low incomes, groups that disproportionately vote for Democrats, makes it hard not to view the decision as ideological and political activism. The fact that it undermines the right to vote – the foundation of our democracy – in the face of clear attacks on that right makes it particularly egregious.

I encourage you to let your representatives in Congress know that you are outraged and that they need to pass legislation to reinstate the VRA immediately. I know that passage in this Congress, given the partisanship and obstructionism that I have written about, probably isn’t likely, but if no one tries it definitely won’t happen and this issue needs to be put on the agenda of our policy makers, the public, and the media.


[1]       Gerson, S., & Sopoci-Belknap, K., 6/28/13, “Constitutional right to vote needed more than ever after Supreme Court guts Voting Rights Act,” Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/28-5)

[2]       Berman, A., 7/26/13, “North Carolina passes the country’s worst voter suppression law,” The Nation

[3]       Drum, K., 7/26/13, “Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act unleashes GOP feeding frenzy,” Mother Jones

[4]       Reeve, E., 7/26/13, “As states rush to restrict voting rights, Justice Ginsburg says, ‘I told you so,’” Associated Press in The Atlantic Wire

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