Why We Still Need The Voting Rights Act: Perspectives From Supreme Court Spectators

The US Supreme Court heard a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act today, attracting hoards of voting rights advocates, speakers, and a massive line of people vying for a spot in the courtroom. Today’s argument could lead to the elimination of Section 5, which protects minority voting rights in states with historically discriminatory election laws. Though Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by overwhelming margins of of 98–0 in the Senate and 390–33 in the House, many Republicans are now calling for the Supreme Court to strike it down, claiming the protections are obsolete in the post-Jim Crow era. In the last election cycle, however, the Justice Department used Section 5 to block new voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, early voting restrictions in Florida, and racially gerrymandered redistricting maps in Texas. The courts agreed that these laws would suppress minority voting power.

ThinkProgress spoke to five individuals waiting in line outside the Supreme Court. While the attorneys made their case inside the court, these supporters gave their own oral arguments for why the Voting Rights Act is still needed:

Priscilla Anderson, Lumberton, NJ and Emma Scott, Willingboro, NJ

“There are unfortunately some people who don’t want all Americans to have the right to vote for the person of their choice. And I believe that every American, no matter what you look like or what your background is, if you want to vote you should be allowed to vote for the person of your choice. It doesn’t matter what party you’re in. I think everyone should have that right. And I have grandchildren, and I want them to be able to have that same right wherever they live.” — Priscilla


“I think we need to keep moving forward. I think it’s fair the way it is. I was part of voter registration this year and some of the people I got registered, when I went down to vote, there was no record of them. It was very upsetting. They gave them a form to fill out and said they would get credit for voting, so I don’t know exactly how that turned out. But it was an effort to not let everyone vote. The Voting Rights Act is still very necessary. You can see some of the setbacks, even today.” — Emma

Jack Beard, Kalispell, MT

“I was in the Capitol yesterday. We have a record amount of women senators here, but when you look down at the floor, it’s basically an old men’s club with white hair. White men with white hair. To me, that’s just the proof right there that maybe voting rights aren’t as democratic as they should be in this country. I think it’s important. The voting restrictions today maybe aren’t as overtly racial, but there’s still many restrictions to voting.”

Gabrielle Griffin, high school government teacher and her students from Shenandoah Valley Academy, New Market, VA

“I think the Voting Rights Act, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are timeless. They have to be protected. I’ve read both sides of the argument, but if there’s any, any evidence at all that this would disenfranchise someone, then Section 5 needs to keep being renewed. That’s my personal feeling. As long as we have racism and bigotry in our country, then we need to protect those who can’t speak out for themselves.”

TJ Jackson, Jr, Shelby County, AL

“Sometimes I really feel like there’s been a change [in racism at the ballot box], but at the same time, when you try to manipulate things and not let the public be aware of it… We’re voters, too. We need to have knowledge to what is going on on the boundary lines. Our city council didn’t even have a clue that particular thing had be done, but they did it, and next thing we know they manipulated it to the point of bringing someone else in. And we didn’t have a clue! It’s very important. Even though it started in Shelby County, this is a nationwide kind of event. It could happen anywhere.”

Linda Perkins, Washington, DC

“I consider myself a “super voter” because I vote all the time, every election, even for dog catcher. It’s important to understand that voting is a fundamental, bottom-line, foundational right of any citizen, and it shouldn’t be impugned or even exempted from anyone. Voting and voting rights, as an African-American of course, has a tremendously significant role, being a part of this American citizenry. What we see from those who are trying to strike down voting rights is that there’s a realization of how powerful the vote is. So if you can restrict it, then obviously you can say it has some power to it. So being under attack by those who want to change it and have used things now with this new gerrymandering that’s going on, this locking votes in, is very, very important to understand that it is under attack. So those that believe in it have to defend it. That’s why I’m here today.”