On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down one of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act, leaving millions of voters of color without the mechanism that has allowed them to stop voting discrimination before it occurs.
Starting today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will count down the days leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Shelby County decision on June 25. Each day, we will discuss one impact of the decision; describe an instance of modern-day voting discrimination; detail the provisions of the VRAA; offer an example of bipartisan support for the VRAA; or share other information for use in urging Congress to pass the VRAA.
Please join the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s countdown to the Shelby County anniversary. The clock is ticking, and nothing less than the promise of our democracy is at stake.
For the first year since 1965, communities of color have not been protected by the full strength of the most important civil rights law in history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to submit proposed voting changes to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court for pre-approval or “preclearance.” Section 4(b) of the Act determined which states and jurisdictions are “covered” and were therefore required to seek preclearance.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. Shelby County had challenged the constitutionality of Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund vigorously defended the constitutionality of these provisions, even participating in oral argument before the Supreme Court. But the Court ruled that Section 4(b), the coverage provision, was out of date and not responsive to current conditions in voting – and thereby unconstitutional.
The effect of Shelby County was to suspend the preclearance requirement for all states and jurisdictions covered by Section 4(b)––those places with the worst records of voting discrimination. Because of this ruling, these states and jurisdictions are now free to implement changes in voting without having to obtain preclearance to ensure that the changes are not racially discriminatory.
Nearly an entire year has passed since the Shelby County decision. During this period, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has witnessed first-hand its devastating consequences on political participation by communities of color. We have seen numerous states and jurisdictions take advantage of Shelby County to enact measures which discriminate in voting.
For example, just hours after the Shelby County decision, the Governor of Texas declared that the previously blocked photo identification law would be implemented for future elections. Similarly, after Shelby County, Augusta, Georgia moved the municipal elections from November to May, when African-American voter turnout is substantially lower. Baker County, Georgia considered closing four of its five polling places, which would have been devastating in a county where 36 percent of residents live in poverty and that has no public transit system. Unfortunately, there are many other examples.
In Shelby County, the Supreme Court essentially invited Congress to update the Voting Rights Act. Congress can and must act to ensure that the voting rights of communities of color are protected. In nearly 50 years, Congress has never let the country down when it comes to ensuring the continued protections of the Voting Rights Act, and it must not do so now.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA-5) and Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI-5) and others to respond to the Shelby County decision. The Voting Rights Amendment Act(“VRRA”), S.1945 and H.R.3899, updates and modernizes the Voting Rights Act to combat present-day voting discrimination wherever it may occur. Unfortunately, the VRAA has not yet moved in Congress.