Monday, March 4, 2013


The Voting Rights Act temporary ‘preclearance’ Section 5 awaits Supreme Court Decision
Vote Watch WI – 3/3/2013

Under the U.S. Constitution, states have the right to determine how they run their state elections. The Constitution also declares the federal government must treat all states equally under the law–the “equal footing” doctrine.

However, in 1965, America was still very racially divided, especially in the south. Many of us remember Alabama Governor George Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” against integration or seeing “Colored Only” signs in the south. This type of blatant racism also affected the voting rights of minorities.

To right this wrong, Congress stepped in and drafted and passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), under the authority granted by the 15th Amendment, Section 2. “…to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The heart of VRA protections lie in its Section 2, which permanently protect minorities from discriminatory election laws anywhere in our nation. Section 5 was added as a temporary measure, requiring nine states and portions in seven others to receive preclearance or permission before making any changes in their election procedures. Section 5 was to expire five years later but was reinstated in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006.

Shelby County [Alabama] v. Holder, brought before the Supreme Court last week, boils down to this question: have the states placed under Section 5 preclearance changed their election practices enough to finally strike that temporary requirement, or will Section 5 live on in perpetuity, solely because of its racially charged nature?

Based on Chief Justice John Roberts interaction with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, it would seem Section 5 has served its usefulness. Roberts illustrated the benign nature of the pre-approvals by stating that in 2005, only one out of 3,700 preclearance requests was objected to.

Justice Roberts also asked Verrilli, “…which state had the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout?” Verrilli did not know. Roberts: “Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African American turnout actually exceeds white turnout?” This too was surprising, “Mississippi.” Obviously, the south of 48 years ago is very different from the south of today

Some liberals equate striking Section 5 with increased voter suppression, arguing that Section 5 is still necessary to fight discrimination. They also infer Republicans are against voting rights for minorities.

However, 1965 southern racism was not a matter of party affiliation. Gov. Wallace was a Democrat. And though Democrats held the majority in Congress, Republicans proportionately favored the VRA with a higher percentage of yes votes than Democrats. Since then, VRA was renewed by Congress four times, each time under a Republican President.

Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a Republican, “helped lead negotiations to reauthorize” VRA in 1982 and as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2006, introduced and moved legislation to reauthorize VRA for another 25 years. Sensenbrenner believes Section 5 should remain.

But things have changed in the states under Section 5 authority since 2006. South Carolina elected Republican Governor Nikki Haley, of Indian American descent. She appointed African American Congressman Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate. Florida elected Cuban American Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Louisiana elected Indian American Bobby Jindal as their Governor, and Texas just elected Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate, whose father was a Cuban immigrant. Many of these states have African American Congressmen and Congresswomen.

As a nation, we have twice elected Barack Obama, whose father was African, as President. VRA Section 5 Preclearance cases fall under Justice Department authority, headed by Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that position. Two of our Supreme Court Justices are minorities: Justice Clarence Thomas, African American, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the court.

The complexion of America clearly is changing. As the Wall Street Journal Voting Rights Watershed concluded, “The Supreme Court can recognize and honor American racial progress by restoring the “equal footing” doctrine to election laws and declaring that Sections 4 and 5 are no longer necessary.”

The Supreme Court’s decision should come in late June or July.
In the news: Wall Street Journal: Voting Rights Watershed
KP – 3/3/13

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