Feb 27 / Sarah Massey

Will Section 5 Survive the Supreme Court?

Anyone who cares about voting rights is watching the Supreme Court today, as it hears a case about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Opponents of this provision of the 1965 federal law say that the safeguards it provides against discriminatory voting laws are no longer necessary. The unfortunate truth, however, is that discrimination still occurs in our democracy and in the voting process. The population that does vote is not representational of the population who can vote, and there are still people who want to keep it that way.

It’s an historic moment. It would be nice if we, as a nation, were indeed ready to move past the need for the kinds of checks and balances that Section 5 provides. But the reality is that discriminatory practices are still all too common. That’s why Project Vote, along with 28 civil rights groups around the country, submitted an amicus curiae brief arguing that the court must uphold Section 5.

While the court deliberates, check out these leading voices that add more to the debate:

Ari Berman at The Nation has an excellent short review and an excellent long review of the facts of the case.

Why we still need the Voting Rights Act
Civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis argues for maintaining the Voting Rights Act in the Washington Post:

“But without Section 5, guaranteed civil liberties of millions of voters could be flagrantly denied, and those violations would remain in force and nearly unchecked unless a lawsuit provided some eventual relief. The act also rewards progress. In fact, every jurisdiction that has applied for bailout, demonstrating a clean record over 10 years, has been freed from Section 5 compliance.
Evidence proves there are forces in this country that willfully and intentionally trample on the voting rights of millions of Americans. That is why every president and every Congress, regardless of politics or party, has reauthorized Section 5.”

Bill Moyers has an excellent wrap-up of the best quotes on the case, such as:
Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith in The New York Times:

“While we have come a long way since the days of Jim Crow, the truth is that racial discrimination in our voting process is still alive and well in our country, though sometimes more subtle. Young voters are diverse voters, so for this group the Voting Rights Act and its protection of minority voters seem all the more important.”

Talk of the Nation takes on the issue with a broad conversation. Solicitor General of Alabama John Neiman says that the Voting Rights Act is outdated and that Section 5 was never supposed to last over five years.

Up With Chris Hayes has three segments on why Section 5 is important. Conservative Horace Cooper, adjunct fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and co-chair of Project 21 Advisory Board, argues that the whole country should be covered by Section 5, not just those areas that have a history of discrimination in voting.

The Austin Statesman has an article on how a Supreme Court decision on Section 5 could impact Texans and voting with Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott fighting to overthrow the law and civil rights leaders opposed.

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