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June 25, 2013

VRA Section 4 Struck Down: What Happens Next?

By Marta Steele

On the tragic decision by SCOTUS this morning to rescind Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


Glory Old by Internet

The decision Election Integrity activists have awaited for months was published this morning by the New York Times, revealing that SCOTUS has outrageously betrayed the people again. But where Citizens United ruled against the 99 percent, the Shelby County v Holder decision is blatantly racist, ruling against the 12 percent of this country that is African American.  

      Was Jim Crow reborn this morning? No. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act specified [generically] which states required preclearance from the Department of Justice before enacting any changes to election practices at every municipal as well as state level. That is the part of the VRA struck down, not Section 5, which requires preclearance. It may as well have been struck down, though. Without the specifications in Section 4, it is toothless.   

     Crow never died. VRA fought back, but leading EI activists have pointed out outrageous instances of electoral racism repeatedly--in Election 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio (of which preclearance is not even required), for example. Florida is one of sixteen states, nine of them Southern, which up until today, partly or fully, were subject to preclearance. Ohio is not but should be (more on this below).  

      Moreover, relevant to Election 2012, courts referred to the VRA to justify block- ing voter identification requirements and cutbacks on early voting, both of which--you guessed it--work against the poorest segments of the 99 percent.  

     A New York Times blog published on February 20, 2013 reminded that "Congress has repeatedly extended the [Section 5] requirement: for 5 years in 1970, 7 years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 [by a huge margin] after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years."

     SCOTUS supported the congressional mandate in 2009, but made the public aware that the issue would be revisited.       

       Most telling is a letter to the editor of the Times from a resident of Shelby County, Alabama [the plaintiff that won this morning in SCOTUS], testifying to the persistence of Jim Crow despite the opposition's view that the election of a black president in 2008 killed Crow, as did a new poll revealing that the number of African Americans voting has increased. A section of this LTE follows:         

      "Born and raised in Alabama, I can assure you that Alabama is a poster child for why voters still need the protections from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which Shelby       county is now trying to gut for the whole nation.       

     There have been countless examples of politicians in Alabama trying to take away or diminish the right to vote for African-Americans.

     "In 2008, my city, Calera, Ala., tried to eliminate the only black councilman's district. The lines were redrawn so that the number of African-American voters was cut by more than half. Thanks to Section 5, the discriminatory plan was tossed out."

     Further according to the blog cited above, "in 1965 Congress based the VRA on two Reconstruction-era Constitutional amendments that protect fundamental rights of citizenship: equal protection (the 14th) and the right to vote (the 15th).            

     "Both amendments explicitly give Congress the power to enforce their guarantees "by appropriate legislation,' and both had the central purpose of giving Congress enforcement power to keep the states in line. That would seem an adequate answer to the Texas and Alabama complain[t] that Section 5 tramples on the sovereignty and dignity of the states, while other covered states, Mississippi and North Carolina, have joined a brief by New York's solicitor general, Barbara D. Underwood (several New York counties are covered, including Manhattan and Brooklyn!), asserting that Section 5 has provided "significant and measurable benefits' in helping covered jurisdictions "move toward their goal of eliminating racial discrimination and inequities in voting' and continues to do so."            

     So I threw in my own two cents to the Times, in a comment attached to the tragic news it publicized this morning:        

     "The correct step Congress should now undertake is to study racist-trending patterns throughout the country and redesignate states that require preclearance. Ohio, among other states, should require preclearance, along with the other states designated already, including the Southern ones.       

     "I wouldn't mind if all states in the union were required to preclear any election-related changes they make.       

     "Too much federalism? Should Kennedy and Johnson not have intervened in the sixties? Perhaps a HAVA should have been written, but not the one we have now. Elections among the states by 2002 were in shambles and required federal intervention.      

       Quixotic, perhaps, as the blog affirmed: "[T]he chance that Congress would overcome sectional and partisan tensions in order to produce a new formula is even smaller than the prospect of Congress raising judicial salaries."       

       The public thinks little of Congress for a good reason. Where are the DoJ and President Obama when we need them? An executive order might work to curb Jim Crow again.        

     Mr. President, as you said in your 2012 acceptance speech in reference to the too-long lines of underprivileged voters, "We've got to do something about that."

Submitters Bio:

Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for Opednews.com since 2006. Her original website, WordsUnLtd.com, first entered the blogosphere in 2003. She recently became an editor for Opednews.com. She has in the past taught college and worked as a full-time as well as freelance reporter. She has been a peace and election integrity activist since 1999. Her undergraduate and graduate educational background are in Spanish, classical philology, and historical and comparative linguistics. Her biography was listed in "Who's Who in the East" in 2000.