Voting rights

  • June 25, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Earlier today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The VRAA was introduced early this year by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and is intended to repair some of the damage to the Voting Rights Act caused by the Supreme Court’s 2013 opinion in Shelby County v. Holder.

    This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer—a time marked by bloodshed over the right to vote. Forty-nine years after that historic summer, the Roberts court in Shelby County invalidated a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    This spring, ACS published “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014: A Constitutional Response to Shelby County,” an Issue Brief by five constitutional scholars analyzing the major elements of the VRAA, which is aimed at remedying some of the damage inflicted by the Shelby County decision.

    Racial discrimination in elections is alive and well. From stringent voter ID laws to the weakening of the Voting Rights Act by the Roberts court, the right to vote is being undermined and the disenfranchisement of the marginalized is reaching significant proportions.

    So what can be done? Scholars William Yeomans, Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Gabriel J. Chin, Samuel Bagenstos, and Gilda R. Daniels examine various aspects of the legislation, and explain why the bill is well within congressional power to enact.

    Read the issue brief here.

  • June 13, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Conservatives should embrace Jim Sensenbrenner’s efforts to update the Voting Rights Act, writes conservative columnist Armstrong Williams in a column yesterday. Williams notes that the Voting Rights Act—a tool to prevent discriminatory practices used to deny people, particularly people of color, the right to vote for years—was a bipartisan piece of legislation.  He now calls on conservatives to update the VRA in the aftermath of Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the law and left it unenforceable.

    In his column, Williams pays homage to the work Republicans on Capitol Hill have done to ensure the right to vote for African Americans.

    “Republicans have had a long history of protecting voting rights. In 1965, only one Senate Republican and only 20 House Republicans opposed the conference report that was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. Thirty voted for it in the Senate, and 111 voted for it in the House, but those votes proved to be crucially important to get the bill over the top.

    "In 2006, no Senate Republican voted against the 25-year extension and only 33 House Republicans voted no. Keep in mind, that in 2006, Republicans were in control of the House, the Senate and the White House. It was Republican leadership that made the extension possible. You can make the case that without the Republican Party, voting rights would have never been protected in this country.”

  • June 3, 2014

     
    The Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania woman who attempted to poison her husband’s mistress cannot be prosecuted under federal law. The justices ruled that the federal ban on chemical weapons does not apply to Carol Anne Bond, whose attempt to poison her victim resulted only in “a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.” Lyle Denniston as SCOTUSblog breaks down Bond v. United States.
     
    New voting laws across the country will pose an arduous task for minority voters in the midterm elections. In states like North Carolina and Texas, these restrictions will “disproportionately affect registration and voting by African-Americans as compared with whites.” Fanita Tolson discusses the issue in the Tallahassee Democrat.
     
    Trip Gabriel at The New York Times addresses why democrats in Kentucky are disillusioned by the Obama administrations’ ambitious proposal for regulating power plant emissions.
     
    At Just Security, Marty Lederman examines the Obama administration’s reasons for not waiting “30 days to complete the Bergdahl exchange.” 
     
    At Concurring Opinions, Ronald K.L. Collins provides a “snapshot of the Roberts Court’s record on free expression issues.” 
  • May 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel, Political Participation Group, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

    When Black voters in Fayette County, Georgia took to the polls during a primary election earlier this month, they experienced, for the first time in the county’s 191-year history, the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice to the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

    It is more than just serendipity that this election took place almost exactly 60 years to the day that our nation celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. Brown ended legally enforced segregation in our country’s public schools and overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine that segregated all aspects of American society. The Brown decision also breathed life into the Civil Rights movement, which in turn led to the creation of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, widely considered the movement’s greatest victory.

    But for the voters of Fayette County, that victory was a long time coming. Prior to the historic election in May 2014, Fayette County used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of Fayette County’s population, are geographically concentrated within the County, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no Black candidate has ever been elected to either body under the at-large system of election. Indeed, because Black-preferred candidates are not meaningfully supported by white voters, who comprise 70 percent of Fayette County’s population, those candidates cannot win a county-wide election under the at-large electoral scheme.

  • May 5, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney, Director of Voter Protection, Advancement Project
     
    On April 29, the federal court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin found that the state’s photo ID law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This decision marked the first time Section 2 has been used to strike down a discriminatory voter ID law, and it shows that the Voting Rights Act still has the power to do so—despite the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision eviscerating its preclearance provisions under Section 5.
     
    Advancement Project initiated the Section 2 litigation on behalf of Black and Latino individual plaintiffs and community organizations, including League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Cross Lutheran Church, and the Wisconsin League of Young Voters. Our pro bono counsel was Arnold & Porter LLP. Our case was consolidated with another suit brought by the ACLU for the purposes of trial last November. By then, our lead plaintiff, Bettye Jones, had unfortunately passed away. 
     
    Ms. Jones was 78 years old and, born at home during a time when hospitals were segregated, lacked the birth certificate needed to get a photo ID. Her daughter testified about the numerous inquiries—inquires which racked up burdensome time and financial costs—that it took to try get her mother an ID so that she could continue voting. After last week’s decision, she told us her mother would have been proud to know that her refusal to be silent made a difference in ensuring that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was preserved in 2014 and beyond.