The door is open for Congress to repair the nation’s most transformative election law, which was neutered by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago today. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion for Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, issued Congress a written invitation to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after striking down Section 4 of the act and disabling the strongest safety check against racial discrimination in voting. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the Voting Rights Amendment Act shows that his invitation did not fall on deaf ears or timid hearts. Swift and dauntless action is needed in both houses of Congress, however, to ensure that voting remains an equal opportunity exercise for all Americans, and that Congress remains a relevant force in the defense of voting rights in places like Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and beyond. On Tuesday, conservative groups marshaled poll watchers for the senatorial primary run-off in Mississippi. Though a court blocked their presence inside polling places, their position just outside threatened to intimidate voters who had come to cast their ballots — echoing the power that poll watchers exercised throughout the Jim Crow South.
This is one example of potential voter suppression that minority voters have confronted in the year since the Shelby decision was handed down. The countdown to the next midterm and general elections has already begun and, since that ruling, states across the South and beyond have resurrected discriminatory voting restrictions — and invented new ones.
Wednesday’s Senate hearing will likely focus on the state of minority voting rights, which lack pre-clearance protection for the first time in almost 50 years. Whether you consider the voucher tests in Alabama that require voters be verified by two poll workers in order for them to vote without an ID; cuts to early voting in Florida that more than half of all black voters relied on, or stringent voter ID laws in Texas that a federal court previously ruled discriminated against minority voters, the familiar creep of voter suppression is undeniable.