June 25, 2013
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, ruling that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) is unconstitutional. Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater issued the following statement:
“Today’s ruling is a significant setback for voting rights in our great democracy. The Voting Rights Act remains one of the most important achievements of the civil rights movement, and for almost 50 years has been a vital tool to protect real voters from losing their right to cast a ballot.
The VRA was enacted to put an end to the rampant racial discrimination in election laws and practices. Section 5 requires states and jurisdictions with the worst records of voting discrimination to have all their voting changes reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court to ensure the changes are not discriminatory. Section 4 established which jurisdictions are covered, based on their histories of racially discriminatory voting practices and poor minority voter turnout. By holding the coverage formula unconstitutional, the Court, in effect, holds Section 5’s preclearance process hostage to the Congress, which will undoubtedly be loathe to rework it.
While our nation has taken many steps forward, that progress is largely due to laws like the Voting Rights Act. Preclearance has worked, and voting rates in many of these jurisdictions have improved precisely because those states and counties were prevented from implementing harmful, discriminatory voting laws. Now, the Court has seized on the evidence of progress towards equality in those very jurisdictions as proof that they no longer need the special scrutiny of the federal law.
Unfortunately, there are those who still seek to manipulate elections by erecting barriers to voting. For evidence that this law is still as vital now as it was in 1965, we need look no further than today: shortly following the ruling, the attorney general of Texas announced that the state’s controversial voter ID law—which had been blocked under the VRA because it would hinder minority turnout and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor”—will immediately go into effect.
By stripping away this important voter protection, today’s Supreme Court ruling opens the door to this and other efforts on the part of election officials to suppress the vote. This decision is a major step backwards for voting rights in America, and undermines the democratic goal of a free, fair, and accessible democratic process for all Americans.
The Court advises Congress to create new measurements for preclearance. Protecting the right to vote from discrimination should be a bi-partisan goal, and we call on all members of Congress to ensure that this critical tool to fight voter suppression is quickly restored. Project Vote will continue to fight for every American’s right to vote.”