PHoD Gay Jennings laments voting rights decision

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UPDATE: President Barack Obama deeply disappointed in Voting Acts ruling. (see his statement below)


House of Deputies President Gay Jennings issues a statement lamenting the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act. Jennings recalls the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels and contributions of Thurgood Marshall in the struggle to secure these rights:

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church, issued this statement in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County vs. Holder:

In the summer of 1965, two weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels died a martyr’s death in Alabama where he was spending the summer registering African American voters. Four days later, Episcopalian Thurgood Marshall, who was already a lion of the civil rights movement, became United States Solicitor General. In that office, and later as the first African American justice of the Supreme Court, he championed the voting rights of all Americans. The legacy of these two men, both saints of the Episcopal Church, guides us to this day.

The Episcopal Church has given its best and brightest to the cause of voting rights for half a century, and today’s regrettable Supreme Court decision will not change that. Together with Episcopalians across the church, I call on President Obama and Congress to move quickly to pass legislation, consistent with the court’s decision, that will ensure the protection of equal voting rights for all Americans. We will not rest until the legacy of Daniels, Marshall, and thousands of other Episcopalians who fought with them is secure.

From President Barack Obama:

I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.

As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.

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Priscilla Cardinale
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Priscilla Cardinale

John, you are misinformed. There has been a bailout provision in the VRA since the 1982 renewal. Here is an excerpt from an article in Mother Jones by Adam Serwer explaining how Roberts has opposed the VRA since his early days in the Reagan administration:

"But in 2009, when an earlier challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act reached the Supreme Court, Roberts sounded a lot like Reagan during oral arguments. He echoed the late president's view that Section 5 represented an unconscionable punishment for the South's past sins. "Congress can impose this disparate treatment forever because of the history in the South?" Roberts asked the government attorney defending the law.

In his subsequent opinion in the 2009 VRA case, in which the court seemed close to striking down Section 5, Roberts wrote that the government had made the bailout provision "all but a nullity." In the three years since that verdict, however, more than 100 jurisdictions have been allowed to bail out of Section 5—more than twice as many in the nearly three decades before. It's not even that expensive to bail out; the usual cost is $5,000. The reason Shelby County hasn't been able to take advantage of the bailout provision is that in 2006, county election officials redistricted the only black city council member in one of the county's towns out of a job."

And right on cue, Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia rush to disenfranchise traditionally democratic party voters in clever and subtle ways that don't overtly refer to race.

I thought that Paul taught us that in Christ we are all one. I guess that's too literal an understanding for some Episcopalians to stand behind when it comes to US politics?

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

The question isn't whether Congress acted in a way that the court approves of or is beyond criticism. The question is whether it acted, and it did. Decisively.

In this situation, one can err on the side of being too rigorous on states and other jurisdictions, or one can err on the side of depriving minorities of the vote. Texas has already announced plans for a voter ID law.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

Congress acted, but didn't act. My opinion. They didn't want to open the can of worms and take a serious look at coverage formula. How can you treat states unequally in perpetuity under the rule of law? There should be a way to work yourself out of the dog house. Or to get into the dog house if it's deserved. Instead Congress votes by overwhelming majorities and congratulates itself. Craven in my view. I know some states still deserve to be in the dog house, but maybe some others do, too. The reason for periodic voting of the Civil Rights Act is inherent the act -- to do a serious reexamination of which localities should be covered. Instead, Congress is punting. Where's the accountability, repentance and reconciliation in that?

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Jim Naughton
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Jim Naughton

Congress did act, John. In 2008, the House reauthorized the act 390-33. The Senate reauthorized it 98-0. The 5-4 majority of the court just didn't care for how it acted.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

The Court is saying that because Congress has essentially left Section 4 unchanged since 1965 (the section that defines which states needed to be monitored) that makes section 4 unconstitutional -- because Congress ought to gone and asked which states still need to apply for preapproval, and indeed which states ought to be added. It's not the court's responsibility to accomodate Congress's failure to act, to open up a painful assessment of which localities ought to be covered given their behavior _today_.

This is true even though ruling Section 4 (which localities are covered under section 5) unconstitutional makes Section 5 (preclearance of local voting rules changes) an empty shell.

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