North Carolina is poised to become the first state to pass a more restrictive voting law after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a core provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, had been predicting this result. “This was an enormous decision with very serious consequences,” she said. North Carolina — because of past evidence of discrimination against African Americans — was among the states previously required by Section 5 of the federal law to get U.S. approval before voting changes took effect statewide. The push by state lawmakers to tighten rules for voter identification and voting times could make it the first among several states examining voting laws following the court’s June ruling. “I don’t know what’s in hearts and minds, but one of the things that was very nice about Section 5 was that it didn’t require a showing of what was in hearts and minds,” Perez said, referring to the act’s empirical requirements for proving discrimination. “The right to vote is at stake,” she said. “Persons’ ability to have a say in our ability in the country to have free and fair elections is at stake.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department will petition a federal court in Texas to force that state to be subject to “a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” Texas would have to obtain pre-approval from either the department or a federal court before implementing voting changes when intentional voting discrimination is found, he said.
The federal government presented evidence of intentional racial discrimination in a redistricting case in Texas last year, he said, “as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities.”
“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights” following the court ruling, Holder said at a meeting of the National Urban League in Philadelphia today, “but it will not be our last.”
Holder said: “Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.” Holder called the Supreme Court decision “deeply disappointing – and flawed.” He noted as well that the issue is current, citing a federal court ruling last year that prompted South Carolina to change its photo ID law.