One Year After The Supreme Court Gutted The Voting Rights Act, We Need A Fix
50 years ago, the heroic participants of “Freedom Summer” paved the way for the national advancement of civil rights, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act one year later.
A year ago today, in a 5-to-4 ruling on Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination subject to “preclearance,” or special review by the Justice Department or a federal court before enforcing any new voting laws, were now free to legislate as the wished. At the time, Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser wrote, “Although today’s opinion ostensibly would permit Congress to revive the preclearance regime by enacting a new formula that complies with today’s decision, that would require a functioning Congress — so the likely impact of today’s decision is that many areas that were unable to enact voter suppression laws under the Voting Rights Act will now be able to put those laws into effect.”
And that is precisely what ended up happening. Just 48 hours after the landmark decision, six of the nine states that had been covered in their entirety under the law’s “preclearance” formula had already taken steps toward restricting voting.
Though the conservative Justices may disagree, voting discrimination is not largely a thing of the past. Since 2010, nearly two-thirds of the states previously covered under Section 5 of the VRA, nine of fifteen, have passed new voting restrictions:
And between 2000 and June 2013, there were 148 Section 5 objections or other VRA violations recorded in 29 states, mostly concentrated in the South.
Meanwhile, Congress — which voted to renew the Voting Rights Act in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, each time with increasingly larger margins — has yet to fix it this time around. The Senate has introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act, and held a hearing on it today. In the House, it has languished. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte apparently thinks that a fix to the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision is not needed.
BOTTOM LINE: Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that we no longer need the Voting Rights Act. Today offers a good opportunity to remind them, and the legislators dragging their feet in Congress, that we do. States continue to pass laws designed to erect barriers to voting and suppress voter turnout, often targeted disproportionately at minority communities. There may no longer be literacy tests or poll taxes, but the modern voting restrictions are just as insidious and we need strong federal protections to prevent states from enacting them.