America needs the Voting Rights Act

 

The U. S. Supreme Court seems poised to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

The challenge, filed by Shelby County, Alabama, was invited by signals sent by the Supreme Court in earlier cases. It will be surprising if the decision departs from the Court’s ideological and partisan 5–4 divide.

Section 5 requires that 9 states and parts of 7 others — all with a history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities — get approval from the Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington before making changes to voting laws or procedures. This “pre-clearance” is designed to ensure that changes do not have a retrogressive impact on the voting rights of minorities.

Five Florida counties (Hendry, Hardy, Monroe, Collier and Hillsborough) are covered by the Voting Rights Act.

Essentially, opponents claim that the Voting Rights Act has accomplished its mission and is no longer needed. They argue that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is now just a federal intrusion on state’s rights.

But let’s not forget history.

In the spring of 1965, following the Bloody Sunday attack on civil rights workers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent telegrams to allies across the country to come to Alabama to work for passage of the Voting Rights Act. As a leader of my college student government, I received that telegram and, with two friends, got on the bus, and ultimately made the 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery.

There was reason to be scared. Two years earlier, three college students, two from my university in New York, were murdered for helping to register Black people to vote. And in Selma, leading up to the march, a Unitarian minister was beaten on the streets and died a few days later.

The Selma to Montgomery march for the passage of the Voting Rights Act ended with the murder of Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit mother of five who was shot from a car containing four members of the KKK. Ten years later, when it was revealed that one of the four was the FBI’s chief paid informant in the Klan, I worked to bring, fund and sustain a lawsuit to hold the FBI responsible for the murder of Viola Liuzzo. (I was then the Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.)

The tactics of voter suppression have changed since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. It is less common that people of color face violence or are murdered when they try to exercise their fundamental rights as a citizen.

Instead, bureaucrats purge voter rolls and legislators restrict voter registration activities. (In Florida, a majority of Black and Hispanic voters register through volunteer voter registration programs.) Legislators also cut back on early voting that in effect shuts down programs like “Souls to the Polls” marches from black churches on Sundays. (In 2008 in Florida, a majority of black voters voted during early voting days.)

The tactics of voter suppression have changed, but voter suppression has not ended.

Look at the performance of Florida officials. For the 2012 Election they tried to make it harder to register to vote, harder to vote, and harder to ensure that your vote will be counted. And then they lied about it by claiming that these restrictions were necessary to address voter fraud, or as the governor claimed, to prevent “potential fraud.”

Is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still needed? Our Legislature and governor are walking advertisements for why America needs the Voting Rights Act and why it would be a disaster for the U. S. Supreme Court to end federal oversight.

But even if the court strikes down Section 5, the fight will not end. The search for other tools to defend the right to vote will intensify.

Howard Simon is executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • A battle ahead on ‘personhood’

    Some of the most hard-fought Senate races this fall are likely to feature big fights over “personhood.”

  • The Cuba embargo is such a bad idea

    On a drive across Cuba a few weeks ago, my family and I decided to make a quick detour to the Bay of Pigs. It was hot, and the beach at Playa Giron — where 53 years ago a tragicomic CIA-sponsored invasion force stormed ashore — seemed like a good place for lunch. Plus, who could pass up the opportunity to swim in the Bay of Pigs? I would swim in the Gulf of Tonkin for the same reason.

  • A deadly decade for environmentalists

    According to a report released this week by the London-based NGO Global Witness, at least 908 environmental activists have been killed over the last decade. That number is comparable to the 913 journalists killed in the course of their work in the same period and is likely on the low side — reporting is inconsistent in many countries and full data for 2013 hasn’t yet been collected. 2012 was deadliest year ever for environmentalists with 147 killed.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category