The striking down of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is a step backwardsby Diane Roberts / June 27, 2013 / Leave a comment
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has effectively dismantled the most significant, most successful, civil rights legislation in United States history. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the crowning legislation of the Civil Rights Movement, a great leap forward for social justice.
VRA was re-authorized several times by Congress, most recently in 2006 with a vote of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. When he re-signed the extension of it, President George W. Bush called it a re-affirmation of America’s founding “belief that all men are created equal.” Under Section 4 of the act, states, counties and municipalities with a history of discrimination had to request “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department when they wanted to re-draw constituencies, change the rules for voter registration, or alter other regulations on who can vote, when, and how. Not surprisingly, most (but not all) of the places under Justice scrutiny were in the South, where for nearly 100 years, African-Americans trying to vote were met with outrageous and humiliating requirements whites were not subjected to: “literacy tests”, questions on the number of windows in the White House, for example, or being forced to pay a poll tax. Often they were threatened with violence. Dozens of people died for the right to vote.
In ruling that the formula to determine progress toward (or a retreat from) equality of opportunity is out of date and no longer relevant, the court has essentially declared that institutional racism is over and voter suppression no longer exists. “Our country has changed,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.
Indeed, it has. But not enough. In 2012, Florida’s Republican legislature passed laws making it much more difficult for citizens’ groups such as the League of Women Voters to register people to vote, cutting back on early voting (popular with the elderly, young people and minorities), increasing the use of “provisional ballots” (only 50 per cent of which are usually counted), and refusing to fund additional polling places in crowded inner-city areas. Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department denied many of these attempts. Now there will be nothing to stop states such as Florida making it more difficult to vote. Texas and North Carolina have…