Gov. Bob McDonnell isn’t ready to say Virginia should be free of federal oversight on proposed election policy changes under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark law that applies to states and communities across the nation with a history of voter discrimination. “I can’t say that,” the governor responded Monday when asked if Virginia has outgrown the act almost 50 years after it was adopted. The fate of that civil rights era policy now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. In the coming days, the nine justices are expected to rule on an Alabama locality’s challenge to a key provision in the law, known as Section 5, that requires federal sign-off before new voting policies are put in place. Virginia is among nine states, many of them southern, covered by that provision. Select communities in six other states also fall under the act.
The Old Dominion has made strides over time, McDonnell said, citing the state’s 1989 election of Doug Wilder as the first African American governor since Reconstruction, and the 2003 promotion of Norfolk-native Leroy Hassell as the first African American chief justice on Virginia’s Supreme Court.
“There’s a legitimate societal debate as to how far have we come towards Martin Luther King’s dream of us being able to be judged based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” McDonnell told reporters Monday.
“We are becoming a more integrated society . . . But the struggle for justice, I think, will continue until the rapture,” he added. “There are always things that people do to their fellow man that are not just and that deprive somebody of their rights. And that’s why we have laws and courts to provide remedies for that.”