Friday was a great day for voting rights. In fact, it was probably the best day voting rights advocates have had since 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. First, a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s voting law—seen by many as the most regressive in the nation—finding that Republican lawmakers intentionally discriminated against black voters in drafting the bill. Hours later, a federal court told Kansas it couldn’t stop people from voting in state and local elections this fall simply because they failed to show proof of citizenship when they registered. Not long after, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional a range of strict voting rules imposed in Wisconsin. Along with other recent decisions against voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin, Friday’s rulings suggest a new assertiveness by the courts in fighting off the most egregious state-level barriers to the polls. Even the high court—though unlikely to overturn its disastrous 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder any time soon, even with a fifth liberal member potentially on the court after the election—is poised to join the wave by issuing a ruling significantly strengthening voting rights before too long.Full Article: Why the Supreme Court likely won’t revisit Shelby County..
Shelby County v. Holder
Thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act, a slew of restrictive voting laws will be in force this fall for the first time in a presidential election. But now the Shelby ruling is putting voting rights at risk in a whole new way: Citing the ruling, the Justice Department recently announced that it would significantly reduce the number of federal observers that it deploys at polling places to guard against voter suppression and intimidation. The impact of the cutbacks could be particularly severe this year, when several states will be asking poll workers to implement new voter ID laws, upping the chances that on-the-ground errors or other problems keep voters from the polls. Meanwhile, some voting rights advocates are critical of the Justice Department’s decision to reduce the number of monitors, saying it relies on an overly conservative reading of the Shelby decision.Full Article: Cutbacks to Poll Monitor Program Raise Voter Intimidation Fears - NBC News.
The Supreme Court said Monday that it won’t hear an appeal from lawyers representing Shelby County, Alabama, who tried to recover $2 million in attorney fees from the U.S. government in a case that nullified a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County prevailed in 2013 when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to eliminate the Justice Department’s ability to stop potentially discriminatory voting laws before they take effect. The county had challenged the constitutionality of a section of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get preclearance from the federal government before changing local voting protocol.Full Article: High Court Rejects Alabama County's Appeal Over Legal Fees - ABC News.
National: Man behind gutting of Voting Rights Act: states may have ‘gone too far’ since decision | The Guardian
To his detractors, Edward Blum is one of the most dangerous men in America, a human wrecking ball on a mission to destroy the landmark achievements of the civil rights era and send the country back to a dark age of discrimination and harassment of minorities – in the workplace, in higher education and at the ballot box. That’s some reputation for a slightly built former stockbroker who answers his own phone, sounds nothing like the bullying demagogues who once held sway over the deep south, and even has some misgivings about the consequences of his actions. If anything, his soft-spoken, self-deprecating, consciously neurotic manner is reminiscent of Woody Allen from his early days in standup. Blum’s impact, though, is beyond question. For more than 20 years, working largely on his own, he has orchestrated lawsuits to challenge and, in some instances, dramatically reverse once sacrosanct legal principles. Case after case that he’s filed – on voting rights, on the drawing of electoral districts, on affirmative action – has made its way to the supreme court, often against the predictions of legal scholars, and found a sympathetic reception from the conservative majority.Full Article: Man behind gutting of Voting Rights Act: states may have 'gone too far' since decision | US news | The Guardian.
The Supreme Court decision that nullified a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is more than two years old, but the battle rages on over whether federal officials should pick up the legal tab. Shelby County won the case that freed Alabama and several other states from having to prove in advance that every proposed change to their election procedures wouldn’t discriminate against minority voters. Conservatives hailed the historic decision as a victory for states’ rights, but civil rights groups assailed it, saying it weakens protections for black and Latino voters. After the court’s 2013 ruling, the county’s Washington lawyers filed a $2 million bill and said the losing party in the case — the U.S. Department of Justice – should pay it.Full Article: Shelby County seeks legal fees in voting rights victory.
Editorials: ‘One person, one vote’ isn’t broken, and the Supreme Court shouldn’t fix it. | Nathaniel Persily/The Washington Post
Anyone who teaches or writes about election law has one Supreme Court court case that he or she finds outrageous. For some, it is Shelby County v. Holder, the decision striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. For others, it is Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down regulations of election-related spending by corporations and unions. If the Supreme Court sides with the appellants who seek to redefine the “one person, one vote” rule so that districts may be drawn only around eligible voters, mine will be Evenwel v. Abbott. The case will not receive the attention of the other two, but it represents all that is wrong with constitutional litigation around election law — in particular, the effort to use the courts to achieve anti-minority outcomes that even the majoritarian political process would not tolerate.Full Article: ‘One person, one vote’ isn’t broken, and the Supreme Court shouldn’t fix it. - The Washington Post.
Editorials: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | Theodore M. Shaw/The Nation
ne of the martyrs of the civil-rights movement, Vernon Dahmer, lies in a cemetery in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A voting-rights activist and president of the local NAACP chapter, Dahmer was killed when his home was firebombed by Klansmen five months after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Dahmer’s tombstone bears his famous words: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” Like every step along the path to racial justice, including the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state Capitol, the VRA was bought and paid for with blood. Those who fought for it, like Dahmer, understood that it meant a new beginning for democracy, not an end of the need for vigilance.Full Article: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | The Nation.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”Full Article: Voting Rights Act Sections 2 and 5: Texas defends voter ID laws..
Editorials: How to save the Voting Rights Act: Voting rights shouldn’t rely on parsing racism and partisanship. | Richard Hasen/Slate
In 2010, the Simpsons featured a news helicopter emblazoned with the logo: “FOX News: Not Racist, But #1 with Racists.” That slogan might be applied to today’s Republican Party, which in recent years has actively passed voting laws that make it harder for poor and minority voters to vote. Whether to label the Republican Party “racist” isn’t an academic exercise. The question is actually at the heart of lawsuits over the future of voting rights in Texas and North Carolina. It’s also a question with historical resonance, particularly on the eve of the Voting Rights Act’s 50th anniversary this week. The five-decade history of the Voting Rights Act is told masterfully in Ari Berman’s new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Berman starts around the time of the Selma, Alabama, marches, but unlike the movie Selma, Berman goes on to give us the rest of the history: the expansion of voting rights protections in 1970 and 1975 to include Latinos, Native Americans, and others over the objections of racists, many in the Democratic Party; the important 1982 rewriting of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, providing additional protections for minority voters nationally, and (now Chief Justice) John Roberts’ key role for the Reagan administration in unsuccessfully fighting against the expansion; hot disputes over voting rights in Florida in the 2000 election; the controversial renewal of the expiring “preclearance provisions” of the act in 2006 that continued to require states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws; and the ongoing “voting wars” that accelerated when Roberts led the court’s conservatives in striking down the 2006 preclearance renewal in Shelby County v. Holder.Full Article: How to save the Voting Rights Act: Voting rights shouldn’t rely on parsing racism and partisanship..
Editorials: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades | Scott LEmieux/The Week
In 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the most crucial enforcement mechanism in the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction. How did we get here? A major New York Times Magazine story by Jim Rutenberg provides an invaluable history of the long battle conservatives have fought against the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that one major player in this movement was John Roberts himself. It’s important to emphasize the spectacular shoddiness of Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County. It fails to make an even remotely coherent argument to justify declaring that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — which used a formula to determine which areas of the country required greater federal oversight of voting practices — is unconstitutional. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly authorizes Congress to pass legislation to address racial discrimination in voting, and the Voting Rights Act does not violate any specific textual provision.Full Article: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in 2013, when the Supreme Court freed Southern states from the requirement that federal authorities approve any proposed election-law change in order to ensure minority voters were not harmed. Republican lawmakers in North Carolina appeared to take that as a go signal; they immediately unveiled a previously private plan to overhaul the state’s voting procedures. A 14-page bill that would require voters to show specific kinds of identification was replaced with a 57-page omnibus package. It rolled back or repealed a number of voting procedures that civil rights leaders say had made the state a leader in increasing African American voter turnout. It was approved along party lines.Full Article: N.C. case represents pivotal point of voting debate - The Washington Post.
Editorials: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post
For all the understandable attention devoted to removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, a civil rights struggle with far more practical consequences is playing out one state away. In a trial that just began in a federal courthouse in North Carolina last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights organizations are challenging a state law that limited the days for early voting, ended same-day registration and barred voters who turned up at the wrong precinct. The case presents the stark question: 50 years after its passage, does the Voting Rights Act retain any teeth? Two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a central aspect of the law, the “pre-clearance” provision requiring nine states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South, to submit proposed changes in voting procedures for federal approval.Full Article: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting - The Washington Post.
Congressional Democrats are expected to unveil new legislation this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday, that if passed would restore the requirement for federal approval for voting procedure changes in some states, a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago. The legislation, titled “The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015,” would force any state that has had 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years to be subject to federal preclearance for any change in voting procedure or law. That criterion would initially subject 13 states to preclearance: New York, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the Washington Post. Those states would be able to free themselves of the preclearence provision by going 10 consecutive years without a voting rights violation.Full Article: Congressional Democrats to introduce new Voting Rights Act fix
Legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act (VRA) remains stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress. But as the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that gutted the landmark civil rights law approaches, supporters of the measure aren’t giving up the fight, despite long odds. A coalition of civil rights, voting rights, labor, and other progressive groups plan to mark the June 25 anniversary by rallying in the Virginia district of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee where the legislation has been bottled up. “In this 50th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, voters are more vulnerable to discrimination than at any time since the law was first passed in 1965,” Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “Congressional leadership has yet to act on restoring the law.”Full Article: The fight to strengthen Voting Rights Act is not over yet | MSNBC.
Voting rights, according to Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor of public policy Maya Sen, are fundamentally a question of numbers: How many people were eligible to vote? What number actually registered? And who, among those who registered, ended up casting a ballot? Though this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the celebration is somewhat subdued for many: in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the VRA. Using data to argue for what the act had already achieved, Chief Justice John Roberts ’76, J.D. ’79, writing for the majority, invalidated a portion of the law that used a formula based on historical voting patterns to determine which counties and states needed to be monitored more closely. “All of these questions”—of the history, efficacy, and continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act—“turn on data collection and analysis,” Sen explained at a Thursday event hosted by the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. At the event, part of the center’s Challenges to Democracy series, Sen spoke with two fellow political scientists—professor of government Stephen Ansolabehere, and Indiana University assistant professor Bernard Fraga, Ph.D. ’13—and New York Times data journalist Nate Cohn.Full Article: Harvard professors, journalist Nate Cohn discuss data and voting rights | Harvard Magazine.
A thought experiment: Suppose the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala. — Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge — had fallen on March 7, 2013 rather than the week before last. Eight days before my imaginary anniversary, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. Four months later, the 5-to-4 decision in that case cut the heart out of the very victory that the Selma marchers had sacrificed to achieve, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would the court really have had the nerve to do it, with the memories of the march’s veterans still echoing for the world to hear and with President Obama making perhaps the best speech of his presidency? In the full glare of that public spotlight, would there really have been no member of the Shelby County majority who might have found his way (yes, the five were all men) to a different result?Full Article: The Supreme Court’s Identity Crisis on Voting Rights - NYTimes.com.
There will be no party here this weekend. While thousands are gathering just an hour or so south in Selma to remember one of the high marks of the civil rights movement, black leaders say there is nothing to celebrate. Political leaders, including President Obama, and foot soldiers of the movement are in Selma to observe the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march that helped to propel the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But this is Shelby County, a rural cluster of small towns, modest homes and farmland. It was here in 2013 that local officials won a major victory when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the federal law that resulted from those historic marches in Selma, especially the first, on March 7, 1965, when peaceful protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge were beaten and tear-gassed.Full Article: North of Selma, black leaders ‘fighting the same battle’ - The Washington Post.
The memory is as powerful as if it were yesterday. On March 25, 1965, tens of thousands of us gathered before the Alabama State Capitol, the endpoint of a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called out, “How long?” and the crowd responded, “Not long!” The moment was electric. We believed it would not be long before the right to vote was deeply rooted and bearing fruit in America. In one sense, we were right. The Voting Rights Act, passed just months after the Selma marches, banned the discriminatory voting practices that many southern states had enacted following the Civil War. Over time, the Act enabled millions of African-Americans to register to vote, and for decades following its passage, voting rights continued to slowly expand. But in another sense we are still waiting. Either Dr. King was wrong or “not long” is biblical, measured in generations. We came to Selma in 1971, newly married and fresh out of Harvard Law School. Our intentions were to stay for five years. We were sure that by then Dr. King’s vision of voting rights would have been realized. Over 40 years later, not only are the fruits scarce, but the roots are shallow and feeble.Full Article: Still Waiting in Selma - NYTimes.com.
Editorials: Our election system’s anti-minority bias is even worse than you think | Sean McElwee/Salon.com
In the wake of the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, partisans were quick to jump on the opportunity to restrict unfavorable voters. Across the country, conservatives in particular have debated fiercely whether to pursue voter suppression to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse electorate. There was, however, another way out, as I’ve argued before: Socially and economically conservative values are not unpopular, and if conservatives were to cease supporting people who made speeches at KKK rallies, they could garner enough votes to remain competitive. I worried, though, that the temptation of voter suppression would be too great. And, indeed, a new paper by Ian Vandewalker and Keith Bentele indicates that partisans have chosen the path of voter suppression to an even greater extent than previous thought.Full Article: Our election system’s anti-minority bias is even worse than you think - Salon.com.
Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) are reintroducing their bill to restore part of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, despite warnings by prominent Republicans that they won’t support it. The bill aims to revive a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination to approve voting changes with the Justice Department. The Supreme Court overturned the formula in 2013, determining the criteria were outdated. The proposed overhaul from Sensenbrenner and Conyers would create new criteria for “pre-clearance,” allowing courts to place states under that standard if they commit certain voting violations. The bill would also give the Justice Department more power to step in before an election takes place to protect voting rights.Full Article: Bipartisan duo pushes to restore the Voting Rights Act | TheHill.