The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case from Shelby County, Ala., challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, our nation’s most effective tool in combating racial discrimination in voting. The importance of this case can’t be overstated. At stake is the future of our democracy. The protections in the Voting Rights Act affect millions of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and American Indian citizens, who depend on it to ensure they can participate in our elections and have a voice in our democracy. Section 5 requires those states and local jurisdictions proved to have the most egregious history of racial and ethnic voting discrimination to receive preapproval – or “preclearance” – from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making any election-related change, such as passing restrictive voter ID laws, limiting hours for early voting, moving a polling place or redrawing city council districts.
Section 5 currently applies to all or part of 16 states, including Alabama and Mississippi, but also Arizona, New York and South Dakota. Like flu shots, Section 5 was prescribed to treat those places with the most aggressive strains of voting discrimination. Because changes must be precleared before implementation, Section 5 can actually prevent harm by stopping discriminatory laws before they take effect.
Shelby County, a largely white community outside Birmingham, claims in its appeal to the court that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority when it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 without changing criteria used to determine whether a jurisdiction is covered under Section 5.
In essence, the county contends that it – and by extension other covered jurisdictions – have changed their ways to such a degree that citizens of color no longer need the protections provided by Section 5.
As civil rights leaders, we would be the first to acknowledge and applaud our nation’s significant progress in expanding access to the ballot box, thanks in large part to the Voting Rights Act. But many state and local jurisdictions continue to pass discriminatory laws. And that’s especially true for places covered by Section 5.
Full Article: Section 5 of Voting Rights Act must be preserved.