The League of Women Voters accused the U.S. Supreme Court of erasing basic protections against racial discrimination in voting with its decision June 25 striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The League urges Congress to act quickly to restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act.
“Today is a sad day in America: Through its decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court erased fundamental protections against racial discrimination in voting that have been effective for more than 40 years,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, President of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. “Only strong action from Congress can fix this huge mistake made by the Court.”
“Today, the Court weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as a mechanism to fight discrimination by striking down Section 4, which determines the states and jurisdictions that must secure federal approval before changing election laws,” said MacNamara. “We believe that today’s Supreme Court decision is naïve. The fact that the Department of Justice blocked over 700 voting changes they found to be discriminatory from 1982 through the VRA’s 2006 reauthorization speaks for itself.”
“The impact of this decision on voters will be significant and far-reaching,” MacNamara said. “This decision will only embolden those who seek to create barriers to voters’ rights. Without a strong VRA, our ability to fight off anti-voter legislation and keep our elections free, fair and accessible is significantly weakened.”
During the 2006 Congressional reauthorization of the VRA, a record of thousands of pages of testimony helped illustrate the continuing problems in covered jurisdictions. Overwhelmingly bi-partisan Congressional action was taken based on a solid case for the continued need of the VRA.
“The progress we have made eliminating discrimination in voting is because of the VRA and its enforcement over the past four decades,” said MacNamara. As Justice Ginsberg wrote in her Shelby dissent:
“In truth, the evolution of voting discrimination into more subtle second-generation barriers is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclearance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent backsliding. Beyond question, the VRA is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment. For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”
“We need the VRA to combat these ‘second-generation barriers’ and the pernicious discrimination that is less visible than what occurred decades ago but no less harmful to the right to vote,” MacNamara said.
“We will be going to Congress to fix this issue and ask them to restore the VRA to its full strength,” said MacNamara. “Solutions for voters are required on an issue as fundamental as the voting rights of all Americans.”
“The Shelby decision is a great disappointment,” concluded MacNamara, “but it should also be a great call to action by those who believe in free and fair access by every eligible voter. Congress must act and voters must vote at every opportunity.”
For related resources visit the LWVUS website.