The film Selma movingly chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to win the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It ends with King speaking triumphantly on the steps of the Alabama capitol, after marching from Selma to Montgomery. Five months later, Congress passed the VRA, the most important civil-rights law of the twentieth century. If only that story had a happy ending today. Selma has been released at a time when voting rights are facing the most sustained attack since 1965. The Supreme Court gutted the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013. That followed a period from 2011 to 2012 when 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in 41 states, and 22 states made it harder to vote. Last year, on King’s birthday, a bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced a legislative fix for the Shelby decision, restoring the requirement that states with the worst record of voting discrimination have to clear their voting changes with the federal government. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA) was an imperfect piece of legislation, but voting rights advocates viewed it as a good first step toward protecting voting rights.Full Article: Honor King’s Legacy by Protecting Voting Rights | The Nation.
Shelby County v. Holder
National: The Supreme Court Eviscerates the Voting Rights Act in a Texas Voter-ID Decision | The Nation
In 1963, only 156 of 15,000 eligible black voters in Selma, Alabama, were registered to vote. The federal government filed four lawsuits against the county registrars between 1963 and 1965, but the number of black registered voters only increased from 156 to 383 during that time. The law couldn’t keep up with the pace and intensity of voter suppression. The Voting Rights Act ended the blight of voting discrimination in places like Selma by eliminating the literacy tests and poll taxes that prevented so many people from voting. The Selma of yesteryear is reminiscent of the current situation in Texas, where a voter ID law blocked by the federal courts as a discriminatory poll tax on two different occasions—under two different sections of the VRA—remains on the books. The law was first blocked in 2012 under Section 5 of the VRA. “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” wrote Judge David Tatel. “The same is true when a law imposes an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot.” Then the Supreme Court gutted the VRA—ignoring the striking evidence of contemporary voting discrimination in places like Texas—which allowed the voter ID law to immediately go into effect. “Eric Holder can no longer deny #VoterID in #Texas after today’s #SCOTUSdecision,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted minutes after the Shelby County v. Holder decision. States like Texas, with the worst history of voting abuses, no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Texas had lost more Section 5 lawsuits than any other state.Full Article: The Supreme Court Eviscerates the Voting Rights Act in a Texas Voter-ID Decision | The Nation.
With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer.Full Article: Supreme Court could weaken voting rights — again | MSNBC.
The Supreme Court’s decision last year eliminating a barrier against voting procedure changes in mostly Southern states came with a caveat: Chief Justice John Roberts warned that the Voting Rights Act still included a “permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting.” Now federal courts from Texas to Wisconsin are on the verge of deciding whether Roberts was right — or if what remains of the 1965 law after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling is less able to stop states from making it harder to vote. An appeals court hearing Friday in the Wisconsin case, following a two-week trial in a Texas district court, might point the way back to the Supreme Court. Cases in North Carolina and Ohio also could be headed that way. Those states and others have made voting more difficult in recent years to combat what they claim are instances of voter fraud. Texas imposed strict new photo identification rules hours after the Supreme Court ruling. North Carolina cut back on early voting, same-day registration and provisional balloting. They were among 15 states freed in whole or in part from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes with the Justice Department. The high court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the list of states dating back a half century.Full Article: Voting rights cases may be headed back to Supreme Court.
Democracy. Equality. Racial justice. The struggle for voting rights has long been about concepts that go to the heart of the American ideal. But in a sleepy federal courtroom here on the Gulf Coast, access to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of Texans could turn on some far less high-blown concepts: bus schedules, identification cards – and dollars and cents. As the challengers to Texas’s strict voter ID law prepared to rest their case, they presented more evidence Monday in support of the key claims they laid out last week: that a massive number of Texans lack an ID that complies with the law; that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to lack ID; and that getting an ID can be onerous, especially for the poor. The plaintiffs – represented by a team of over a dozen lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department, civil and voting rights groups, and private law firms – will wrap up Tuesday. The case is one of several currently underway that could have major implications both for access to the ballot this fall, and for the the ongoing state of the law protecting the right to vote. Wisconsin’s and Arkansas’s voter ID laws, Ohio’s cuts to early voting, and North Carolina’s sweeping voting law are all being challenged in court.Full Article: Texas voter ID law's fate could hang on details | MSNBC.
Voting Blogs: Ohio Early Voting Case: A Potential Precedent-Setter | Edward B. Foley/Election Law @ Moritz
Today’s federal district court ruling in the Ohio early voting lawsuit will set a major precedent of nationwide significance if its novel legal theory is sustained on appeal. The key to understanding today’s decision is to compare Ohio, a state that has a relatively extensive early voting period—although less than before—with a state that lacks early voting altogether, like Pennsylvania or Michigan or New York. Nothing in today’s decision indicates the court’s belief that New York is violating federal law, either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, because it has failed to provide any early voting. It appears, moreover, that the court would take this position regarding New York even if there were clear evidence that African-American voters would disproportionally take advantage of early voting as an option in New York and thus the lack of early voting there has a disproportionally adverse impact on African-Americans in New York. The judge’s theory of the Ohio case, instead, rests on the fact that Ohio previously was more generous in its provision of early voting than it currently is and that this cutback, even to an amount of early voting much larger than the none that New York provides, is unlawful discrimination under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. It is a bold and innovative proposition that will be tested on appeal.Full Article: Election Law @ Moritz (Commentary: Ohio Early Voting Case: A Potential Precedent-Setter).
Sammie Louise Bates moved to Texas from Illinois in 2011. She wanted to vote last year, but all she had was an Illinois identification card, and under Texas’s strict voter ID law, that wasn’t acceptable. To get a Texas ID, Bates needed a birth certificate from her native Mississippi, which cost $42. That was money that Bates, whose income is around $321 a month, didn’t have. “I had to put $42 where it would do the most good,” Bates, who is African-American, testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial over Texas’s ID law. “We couldn’t eat the birth certificate.” Another witness, Calvin Carrier, described the difficulties his father, a Korean War veteran, had in obtaining an acceptable ID, thanks to errors on his birth certificate. Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose lawyers are among those arguing the case for the plaintiffs, said those witnesses were there to show that “there are real people out there who don’t have the ID that’s needed. When you are limited income, it can be very challenging to scrape up the money that you need for the underlying ID, and it requires a tremendous amount of hoops to go through.”Full Article: In Texas voter ID trial, witnesses describe burden of getting ID | MSNBC.
The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.Full Article: The Texas two-step and the Voting Rights Act.
Imani Clark, Aurica Washington, Crystal Owens and Michelle Bessiake are students at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University, two historically black colleges in Texas. They do not have a driver’s license or own a car, and do not possess one of the five forms of government-issued identification required by Texas to vote. They can no longer vote with their students IDs in Texas, where a handgun permit is a valid voter ID but a student ID is not. The four students are among the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law in federal court in Corpus Christi this week. The trial before Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, is expected to last two to three weeks. In August 2012, a three-judge district court in Washington found that the law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court called it “the most stringent [voter ID law] in the country.” But after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states like Texas with a long history of voting discrimination from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government, Texas wasted no time in implementing the blocked law. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced hours after the court’s ruling. Groups like the Justice Department, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus are now challenging the law under Section 2 of the VRA, which remains on the books.Full Article: Will Texas Get Away With Discriminating Against Voters? | The Nation.
North Carolina: Court Rules Voting Rights Rollback to Stay In Place Until After Midterm Elections | The Atlantic
A federal judge has temporarily authorized North Carolina to implement a sweeping new law that threatens to reduce access to the polls, particularly for African-American, Latino, and young voters. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, is an early test of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which overturned key parts of the Voting Rights Act. In 2000, North Carolina started rolling out efforts to make it easier to register and vote, only to yank those efforts back thirteen years later. When the state legislature was controlled by Democrats, it authorized counties to conduct up to seventeen days of early voting, including Sunday voting, which enabled black churches to transport parishioners to the polls. It also allowed citizens to register and vote on the same day. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds could preregister, often at their high schools, ensuring they’d be on the rolls when they turned eighteen. And voters who showed up at the wrong precinct could still cast ballots in certain races. From 1996 to 2012, the state’s ranking in turnout among voter-eligible adults shot up from 43rd to 11th, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. African-American participation pulled even with white participation.Full Article: Court Rules NC Voting Rights Rollback to Stay In Place Until After Midterm Elections.
A recent ruling by a federal judge in North Carolina offers a perfect case study of just what was lost when the Supreme Court badly weakened the Voting Rights Act last year in Shelby County v. Holder. Judge Thomas Schroeder on Friday rejected an effort by civil rights groups and the U.S. Justice Department to put North Carolina’s voting law on hold in advance of a full trial next year. The decision means the law—called the strictest voting measure in the country—will be in effect this November, when North Carolina will host a tight Senate race that could determine control of the chamber. Politics aside, the ruling’s logic appears to validate the concerns of voting rights advocates that, post-Shelby, the Voting Rights Act is no longer strong enough to protect minorities’ access to the polls—especially in the face of a concerted Republican effort to make voting harder. Meanwhile, a bipartisan congressional effort to pass legislation re-invigorating the landmark civil rights law is stalled in the Republican-controlled House. “This really is a result of the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act a year ago,” Daniel Donovan, a lawyer for the groups challenging the law, told reporters Monday.Full Article: North Carolina ruling shows weakness of voting rights protections | MSNBC.
Students in Texas have a question for their state lawmakers: Why us? In September, they’ll get to pose that question in court. Over the last year, laws that advocates say place unnecessary burdens on voters have advanced across the country. But a law in Texas is causing a particular stir due to its potential to place the harshest burdens on the youngest voters. A lawsuit challenging it that was filed last year goes to trial Sept. 2. “We work to engage people—young people—in this process,” said Christina Sanders, state director of the Texas League of Young Voters, which is among the plaintiffs in an upcoming voter identification case in the state. “The hurdles these laws create makes it more difficult for us to engage.” “More than cases of apathy, it becomes a case of disenfranchisement,” she added.Full Article: Students Challenge Texas Voter ID Law in Court | TIME.
The Supreme Court’s ruling last year that gutted the Voting Rights Act didn’t just free southern states from federal supervision of their voting laws. It also, far more quietly, put an end to a decades-long program in which the federal government sent election observers to prevent race-based voter intimidation. And with crucial midterm elections fast approaching, voting rights advocates are expressing grave concern. The issue is highlighted as part of a major new report on ongoing racial discrimination in voting, released Wednesday by a coalition of civil rights groups to mark the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Bob Kengle, a former head of the DOJ’s voting section, called the demise of the observer program “a big loss.” Kengle is now with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which led the coalition that compiled the report. The department’s election monitors have in the past played a crucial role in protecting the right to vote. They’ve often been called in by election officials to ease tensions at the polls and avert potential instances of race-based intimidation or irregularities, sometimes reporting problems to lawyers at DOJ. And in recent years, they’ve worked to ensure compliance with the VRA’s provisions on non-English speakers, helping to bring lawsuits by documenting polling places that aren’t offering materials to serve those groups.Full Article: Voter intimidation fears spike as key midterms approach | MSNBC.
Half a century ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an end to the era of Jim Crow by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. One year later, the landmark legislation was strengthened and expanded when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Voting Rights Act prohibited discrimination in voting and, together with the Civil Rights Act, enshrines the principles upon which our nation was founded. These laws serve as a testament to all who sacrificed to work toward ending segregation and discrimination. For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act has stood as a central pillar in the protection of fair voting practices. Our nation now faces the greatest threat to voting rights since Reconstruction.Full Article: The importance on protecting our right to vote: Reflecting on the voting Rights Act of 1965 - Sun Sentinel.
This week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will become Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. Taking the mantle in the middle of an election year, McCarthy does not want for front-burner issues to navigate on behalf of his caucus. There is one issue on which McCarthy undoubtedly must lead, and that is restoring voting rights protections in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the “coverage formula” which determines which states and jurisdictions with records of voting discrimination must preclear voting changes before they can be implemented. While acknowledging that voting discrimination still exists, the Court found that the formula did not address “current conditions” in voting. Since then, it has been an open season on access to voting in jurisdictions throughout the country. Restrictions on early voting, closed polling places, and the elimination of seats held by African-American and Latino incumbents in local districts have all been stepped up since the Shelby County decision. The mood is best understood by the exhilarated statement of the Florida Secretary of State days after the Supreme Court’s decision — “We’re free and clear now.”Full Article: Where does McCarthy stand on voting rights? | TheHill.
The Obama administration plans to join lawsuits against Republican-backed voting restrictions in two major swing states, Attorney General Eric Holder has said. The moves would represent the first time that Holder’s Justice Department has intervened against statewide voting laws outside the areas that the Supreme Court freed from federal oversight in last year’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling. They underline the administration’s intention to aggressively protect voting rights across the country, not only in the mostly southern jurisdictions directly affected by Shelby. “I expect that we are going to be filing in cases that are already in existence in Wisconsin as well as in Ohio,” Holder said in an unaired portion of an interview with Pierre Thomas of ABC News, according to a transcript provided by the Justice Department to msnbc. The interview was conducted Friday in London, where Holder was attending meetings about terrorism threats.Full Article: Obama admin to join voting rights cases in Ohio and Wisconsin | MSNBC.
On Nov. 17, 2010, Eric Opiela sent an email to Gerard Interiano. A Texas Republican Party associate general counsel, Opiela served at that time as a campaign adviser to the state’s speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; he was about to become the man who state lawmakers understood spoke “on behalf of the Republican Congressmen from Texas,” according to minority voting-rights plaintiffs, who have sued Texas for discriminating against them. A few weeks before receiving Opiela’s email, Interiano had started as counsel to Straus’ office. He was preparing to assume top responsibility for redrawing the state’s political maps; he would become the “one person” on whom the state’s redistricting “credibility rests,” according to Texas’ brief in voting-rights litigation.Full Article: Texas GOP’s secret anti-Hispanic plot: Smoking gun emails revealed - Salon.com.
National: Republicans used to unanimously back the Voting Rights Act. Not any more. | The Washington Post
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vermont) proposed Voting Rights Act amendment to commemorate the occasion. “From its inception through several reauthorizations the Voting Rights Act has always been a bipartisan, bilateral effort,” Leahy said, “and it would be a travesty if it became partisan for the very first time in this nation’s history.” What was Leahy talking about? In 2006, when the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized, no Republican senators voted against it. In 2014, no GOP senators have stepped forward to co-sponsor the amendment to update it.Full Article: Republicans used to unanimously back the Voting Rights Act. Not any more. - The Washington Post.
Editorials: Why the Voting Rights Act Still Matters: The Case of Jasper, Texas | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic
Fifty years ago last weekend, civil-rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, including a deputy sheriff, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Next Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the monumental achievements of the 20th century. Three weeks ago, on June 7, we had the 16th anniversary of the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, after he was chained to a pickup truck by white supremacists and dragged three miles, mostly while conscious, with his headless body thrown in front of an African-American graveyard. And Wednesday marked the first anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The story of the Civil Rights Act has been told vividly and wonderfully in two new books by journalists Todd Purdum (An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and Clay Risen (The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act). Purdum brought his book to life a week ago in a talk at the Aspen Institute, weaving the remarkable tale of the miraculous passage of the bill—miraculous not so much in the fact that a bill made it through the labyrinth of the legislative process (after all, we had seen a weak and watered-down civil-rights bill pass in 1957), but that it was a strong bill. Many heroes inside and outside government made it happen. Lyndon Johnson was a towering figure, as were Hubert Humphrey, Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and others in the civil-rights movement. Joe Rauh and others in the liberal community were also key players, and labor and the faith community were vital as well.Full Article: Why the Voting Rights Act Still Matters: The Case of Jasper, Texas - Norm Ornstein - The Atlantic.
Alice Weddle was born at home in Mississippi 59 years ago, delivered by a midwife. She was never issued a birth certificate, a common circumstance for African Americans born in the segregated south. Weddle, who moved to Wisconsin with her family when she was three years old, never had a driver’s license and is a regular voter. But without a birth certificate, she is unable to get the photo ID that was required to vote under Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law. Weddle’s access to the ballot, along with hundreds of thousands of others in the state, was cleared when a federal judge struck down the law in April. In a lawsuit brought by Advancement Project and pro bono law firm Arnold & Porter, we showed that, in burdening the right to vote for Wisconsin’s African-American and Latino citizens, the measure violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In his decision, the judge also rejected the state’s argument that a voter ID law was needed, stating that allegations of voter fraud have absolutely no merit.Full Article: We should all be watching Wisconsin’s voter ID law fight | TheHill.