Who’s Afraid of the Voting Rights Act?

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems to have caught the civil rights community by surprise. The high court affirmed, for the time being, the validity of Section Five of the Act, which requires a pre-clearance before a municipality covered by it can bail out of it. The decision, however, seems to have raised as many questions as it answered.

The court allowed a Texas jurisdiction covered by the Voting Rights Act to opt out, largely because it had no past history of discrimination against black voters.


At the same time, they punted on the constitutionality of the Act itself. Maybe that’s because Congress passed an extension back in 2006, and  an 8-1 majority decided they didn’t want to be the ones that struck it down. The ruling did allow for challenges in the future, and make no mistake, those will come, and come quickly.

There are those who would argue that the election of Barack Obama makes the Voting Rights Act obsolete (knock wood, the court wasn’t one of them).

What nonsense! One need only look at various attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass voter ID laws to realize that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and the poor are alive and well.


Chief Justice Roberts was right when he said “The South has changed”. That, however, would mandate an update of Section 5, not gutting the Act itself.

Isn’t it ironic that some of the same politicians who criticize President Obama for not being forceful enough in speaking out about elections in Iran want to gut a law that provided for free and fair elections here?

And what specific harm has the Voting Rights Act done to America?

Has it disenfranchised Americans, as was the practice of many jurisdictions prior to 1965? Has the Justice Dept. been accused of using Section Five (or any other section for that matter) in an arbitrary manner?

No, the effort here, and on the part of some conservatives in Congress, was to eviscerate the Act before the redistricting that will come with next year’s census. Some states, free of the Act and on the brink of passing voter ID laws, could draw legislative lines that could make it that much more difficult to elect people of color. Some of those places are not in the South. But then, the Voting Rights Act didn’t just cover the South.

I’ve posted my personal mea culpa on this blog in the past to those who sounded the alarm about the Act back before Congress extended it. It wasn’t that I thought it wasn’t needed, I just never thought Congress would let it lapse without renewal. I may have been right about that, but I was wrong about the need for continued vigilance. If the recent p;ast has taught us anything, it’s that taking rights for granted can sometimes lead to them vanishing before our eyes.

What do you think? Was Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act a victory?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. sanda says:

    Really good posting, Mr. Riley. I don’t have a driver’s license, etc. I hope I still can vote
    in future elections. (Older, not African-American, disabled, woman with a surname different than on my birth certificate: Rep. John Conyers has been good on the topic.)

  2. I relish, lead to I found just what I used to be looking for.
    You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a
    nice day. Bye

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