Voting rights

  • July 2, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Today we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, it was and remains a landmark step forward. But we must not also forget that 50 years on, African American communities and other minorities still face many of the same onerous, often deadly, obstacles to equality that generations of African Americans before them suffered. 

    The Civil Rights Act sought to fight discrimination against African Americans and others and to desegregate public schools.

    The Civil Rights Act would not have made it to the president’s desk, were it not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other African American leaders' bold courage and great suffering to win steps toward civil rights. But the suffering continues. Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center remembers the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 50 years ago and notes where we stand today.

    Let's be honest about the state of African-American lives in this country. As Peniel E. Joseph points out in The Root, "the glass is not only half-empty, but it’s losing water fast." Joseph notes that assaults on affirmative action, lax enforcement of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws by federal and state governments and the white public’s general fatigue over race matters has created the perfect storm of political retrenchment we are seeing today. African Americans are still disproportionately imprisoned, put on death row and face racial-profiling from coast to coast. They still face vast discrimination at the polling place. Lawmakers pass discriminatory and unjust laws to keep black men and women from exercising their right to vote. That's why you are seeing stringent voter ID laws and the slashing of early voting. And our country relies on an oppressive system of mass incarceration that is disproportionately destroying African American families and communities. (See this ACSblog Book Talk by Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, about this system in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.)

    The African-American community and others who care for genuine equality and a more just and gentler society are continuing to fight. They have seen a conservative supreme court hobble the Voting Rights Act, but are working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers for passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act. As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel notes in a Washington Post editorial, ongoing action is needed, as Martin Luther King III recently said, we need "not just this moment of reflection, but also a year of action." 

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This month also marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. During July, ACSblog will host a symposium commemorating the two anniversaries featuring some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights leaders.

  • 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.