The Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act

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President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. on Aug. 6, 1965 upon signing the Voting Rights Act. Credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. on Aug. 6, 1965 upon signing the Voting Rights Act. Credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case with the potential to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. The landmark law, passed nearly 50 years ago and reauthorized by Congress four times, made various forms of voter discrimination in the South, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, illegal. The central issue of the case is whether Congress should continue to review new voter laws in certain states to ensure discrimination is not taking place.

You can read overviews and analysis of the Shelby case on SCOTUSBlog (Made Simple | Symposium), The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times: Room for Debate Blog and the Washington Post.

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker: “Yet the events leading up to the 2012 election show that the disease of voter suppression has not been cured; rather, it has moved on and mutated. Last year, Judge David Tatel’s opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, for the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, ratified the congressional judgment that Section Five remains an important bulwark for protecting the right to vote. Tatel found that the statute, far from being obsolete, ‘continues to single out the jurisdictions in which discrimination is concentrated.’”

Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic: “The act didn’t just expand the scope of existing federal civil rights laws. It completely changed the dynamic between voters and state and local governments. And the results are indisputable: There is far less discrimination in voting today than there was half a century ago — and many millions more minority voters.”

Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith in The New York Times: “While we have come a long way since the days of Jim Crow, the truth is that racial discrimination in our voting process is still alive and well in our country, though sometimes more subtle. Young voters are diverse voters, so for this group the Voting Rights Act and its protection of minority voters seem all the more important.”

Constitutional Accountability Center’s Doug Kendall in the Huffington Post: “The story of how quickly conservative politicians abandoned their support for the iconic Voting Rights Act is one of the most depressing examples of the toxic brand of politics that has broken out on the far right.”

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  • Anonymous

    At 65, I have been able to watch this country change from fighting for the rights of all eligible people to vote, to the Republican party doing everything in their power to prevent all, but those who fall into the Republican demographics from voting.

    I can only shake my head.

  • Connie Williams

    The fact that there are still efforts to control the physical act of voting speaks to the necessity of reaffirming the bill. I am 62 and remember the violence of the civil rights movement of the late ’50s and ’60’s. People died trying to insure voting rights. I never dreamed the political climate would ever swing as far right as it has. I never dreamed the United States would have Christian fascists in the Congress and Senate.

  • Anonymous

    Shelby County, AL has an 80% Caucasian population and votes around 76% GOP, so I’m unclear how anything in that county would be considered voter suppression. They are looking to make a change in their county to require photo ID (which the government has been handing out to only white people for decades now), and can’t because of the requirements of Section 5. Still searching for the racism and vote suppression, but I could just be blinded by logic.

  • Mike

    With the changes in the Republican party the republican had better watch out if they want a literacy test. Of course what they really want is limit voting to white male land owners.

  • Fewkes

    The hostilities ended 150 or so years ago but the Civil War is still being waged in subtle ways. The Voting Rights Act should remain in force until nobody can remember why it was ever passed. We still need it.

  • taxpayer

    The only thing disciminatory is allowing people that live off of welfare and no earned entitlements to be able to vote on how the working class have to pay taxes to support them..

  • MBrecker

    It’s amazing to me in 2013 with all of the continuing racism, someone would actually consider doing away with Sec. 5, or the entire act. What adds to this problem? The inability (or unwillingness) of the corporate MSM to allow race to be discussed openly. Instead, it’s a Spectacle. Sharpton vs. Dyson. Smiley vs. Jordan. Hype the personalities and forget the actual subject. Also, they’re only allowed to go so far. If they go beyond a certain point and are considered “uppity”, then they’re cut off. How are you supposed to get anywhere in a system like that?