by Edward A. Hailes, Jr. is Managing Director and General Counsel for Advancement Project. He formerly served as the General Counsel for the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights where he directed its investigation into voting irregularities in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.
In 2006, the United States Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 putting certain jurisdictions under the microscope once again to determine whether those jurisdictions were fully cured from the infection of past and present discriminatory voting practices. These ugly practices prevented and continue to prevent ordinary citizens of color from having equal access in our democracy. Congress conducted similar examinations in 1970, 1975, and 1982, each time determining, on a bipartisan basis that protecting the rights of voters in these jurisdictions required ongoing scrutiny and action.
The 2006 examination was particularly extensive and illuminating. The record of review entailed 15,000 pages and testimony from more than 50 witnesses who examined the body of evidence from both sides of the issue. Based on this thorough, objective review, Congress concluded that, despite progress toward achieving political equality for minority voters in the covered jurisdictions, “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th Amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.” Congress also found that without continuation of Section 5 [which is the very heart of the Voting Rights Act] voters of color “will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years.”