On the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that effectively nullified a major part of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of local and national activists attended a rally in the Roanoke, Va. district of Rep. Bob Goodlatte to demand he take action.
The activists called on Goodlatte, who serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to hold a hearing on least one of the two bills – the Voting Rights Amendment Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act – that would restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act that were gutted by the Court’s ruling in 2013.
Goodlatte has refused to do so despite the growing body of evidence that millions of minority and low-income voters, populations that tend to vote for Democrats, are being denied equal access to the polls in many areas across the country.
As the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, explained, since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, there are “less voting rights protections today than we had 50 years ago after walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.”
The Shelby decision invalidated Section 5 of the act, which determined which states and localities, because of a history of racial discrimination, were required to preclear any changes to their election laws with the federal government. In a 5-4 decision split along partisan lines, the majority argued, against all evidence, that voter suppression was no longer a real problem.
In reality, the Voting Rights Act had been working exactly as it was intended to, functioning as a strong protection against voter discrimination. In the 18 months before the Shelby ruling, Section 5 blocked 13 restrictive laws from going into effect that would disproportionately burden minority or low-income voters.
Rebecca Shankman, speaking on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, quoted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s strongly worded dissent in which she stated that nullifying preclearance was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Just as progressives feared, the consequences of the Shelby ruling have been disastrous. In the past two years, 10 of the 15 states that were previously covered under Section 5 have passed restrictive laws making it more difficult for minorities and low-income citizens to cast ballots, forcing civil rights groups to spend millions of dollars fighting lengthy battles in courts on the back end.
Texas, for example, on the day that the Shelby ruling came out, went ahead with implementing a strict voter identification law that had been previously blocked by both the Department of Justice and a three-judge federal panel because of its disproportionate impact on minority voters.
The racial intentions of the legislation are clear. Minorities are much more likely to not possess a proper photo ID as required by the law, and many would have to drive for hours to reach the nearest location where they could receive one. The law further seems to intentionally burden minority voters by allowing some forms of identification but not others – for example, gun licenses are considered appropriate, but university IDs are not.
North Carolina is another conservative-run state that has since taken advantage of the Court’s terribly misguided decision. Less than 50 days after the Shelby ruling was released, the state passed the worst voter suppression legislation in the country. The bill contained several measures that would clearly disproportionately burden minority voters, including a strict voter ID provision, cuts to early voting, and reduced windows for voter registration.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling is clear, yet Republicans in Congress refuse to acknowledge that a problem exists. They continue to refer to America as the greatest democracy in the world despite a huge amount of evidence to the contrary.
But there’s still a way that Congress can undo the damage done by the Court two years ago, and it all starts with Rep. Goodlatte holding a hearing on bills that would restore the Voting Rights Act.
Congressman Goodlatte, do the right thing and hold the hearing.