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Aug 14 / Estelle Rogers

Hillary Clinton Raises Her Voice Against Voter Suppression


Hillary Clinton receives the 2013 ABA medal. (American Bar Association)

On Monday, Hillary Rodham Clinton received the American Bar Association’s highest honor, the ABA Medal. I was there. Instead of giving a typical thank-you speech—of course, she’s anything but typical—she took the occasion to give a blistering critique of the Supreme Court’s recent Shelby County decision and a full-throated indictment of the voter suppression epidemic that has been sweeping our country. Pundits have called it the first policy speech of her yet-to-be-declared candidacy for President of the United States. If it was, it was a stirring one.

Project Vote is a scrupulously nonpartisan organization. This post is not an endorsement of Clinton’s campaign, or her party’s eventual nominee, nor does it urge her to run. However, we would be remiss as voting rights advocates if we did not remark on the fact of this speech. It would be more inexcusable still if we ignored its content.

“Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections,” Clinton declared, “must not be paying attention.” She decried the “unseemly rush” to enact or enforce discriminatory laws after Shelby County was decided. Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act gave free rein to states and localities to do just that, without the “check” of the preclearance process that required federal approval before any voting change could go into effect in jurisdictions with particularly egregious histories of discrimination in voting. She specifically mentioned the recent omnibus legislation passed in North Carolina, which she dubbed “the greatest hits of voter suppression.”

Secretary Clinton suggested that correcting the Supreme Court’s major step backward would require a multi-pronged approach: more enforcement by the Department of Justice of the laws that remain in effect; grassroots action by citizens and lawyers across our country to detect and combat voting irregularities; and action by Congress to fix “the hole opened up by the Supreme Court.”

As an opening act, no one could ask for anyone better, and it was my luck to have her as mine. Coincidentally, the American Bar Association House of Delegates was scheduled just minutes after her speech to consider a policy—which I wrote—urging Congress to fix the hole opened up by the Supreme Court. It reads:

“Resolved, that the American Bar Association urges the United States Congress to act expeditiously to preserve and protect voting rights by legislating a coverage formula setting forth the criteria by which jurisdictions shall or shall not be subject to Section 5 preclearance and/or by enacting other remedial amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including but not limited to, strengthening the litigation remedy under Section 2, or expanding the “bail-in” provision under Section 3 (or some combination of these concepts), in response to Shelby County v. Holder.”

Customarily, ABA policy proposals are introduced by a member of the House of Delegates and I was the speaker this time. But almost no introduction was needed after Secretary Clinton’s speech.

The resolution passed unanimously and will now be communicated to Congress.

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