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Turns out we needed that provision in the Voting Rights Act after all

Turns out we needed that provision in the Voting Rights Act after all

In July the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling in essence that the provision in question was no longer needed.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, issued a statement calling 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.”

In Samuel and the Supreme Court, an essay for our Speaking to the Soul blog , Lora Walsh wrote:

In his own context, Samuel tried to warn people about the dangers of a monarchical form of government. Samuel said that, under a king, the people would experience a heavy tax burden, forced labor, and loss of life and loved ones in the king’s ambitious wars. Far from modeling Samuel’s leadership ethic, a king would be unaccountable, and he would serve his own interests rather than his people. He would never need to invite their testimony against him.

Samuel would probably point out similar perils in our own system of government. Because of two recent Supreme Court decisions, it is all the more difficult to imagine scenarios in the United States in which leaders are held accountable to their constituents. Even without commenting on the specific data or reasoning in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, we can acknowledge the risks to justice that the decision poses. Voting is one of the most basic ways to say to those who hold power, “Yes, I have been defrauded. Yes, I have been oppressed. Now, give us something better.” But now, without key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, elected leaders are less accountable to communities with a long history of being defrauded and oppressed.

Now comes Richard L. Hasen of Slate with the unsurprising news that voter suppression efforts in states once subject to the Voting Rights Act are well underway.

The conservative justices’ decision this past June in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, has already unleashed in North Carolina the most restrictive voting law we’ve seen since the 1965 enactment of the VRA. Texas is restoring its voter ID law which had been blocked (pursuant to the VRA) by the federal government. And more is to come in other states dominated by Republican legislatures.

Substituting their own judgment for that of Congress, the five justices in the Shelby County majority expressed confidence that the act’s “preclearance” provision was no longer necessary, and that there would be ample other tools to fight discrimination in voting. That the conservative justices have already been proven wrong a few scant weeks after the decision came down offers little solace for the voters of North Carolina, who ironically will have to try to fix the problem using the very mechanism of voting—which the North Carolina legislature is inhibiting.

After discussing how difficult it will be for North Carolinians to roll back the voter suppression bill, Hansen concludes:

It’s enough to make one wonder whether the Justices in the Shelby County majority actually thought minority voters would still have effective tools to fight discrimination after the Justices struck Section 5, or if they suspected all along that a stampede of elephants was right around the corner.


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John B. Chilton

Thinking about this some more, voter ID would be easy to do if we had a national ID system, something the Washington Post editorial board (for example ) supports but civil libertarians on the left and right oppose.

As to voter suppression here are some examples that to me are more compelling than than voter ID, all from North Carolina in recent days:

Marcia Schwaigert Powell

Let’s think this through. Why not deal with the issue of voter id cards head on. This is something conservatives wish to have, and modern society does require a photo id for many things. If the ID cards were available at the banks found in supermarkets and superstores, the question of access would be much less of a concern, because they would be easily available on nights and weekends.

Of course, that also means that we should consider the fact that some of our oldest Americans were born at home, before birth certificates were a mandate. Do we have an alternative way to figure out the question of access for them? I would hope so.


Voter ID easily obtainable for WHOM, Christopher? If you don’t have a birth certificate (because you were born at home)? If you can’t get to registrar’s office, because you don’t drive?

And PLEASE Listen Carefully: voting is a RIGHT of citizenship. It’s not like licensing a car. It’s not like catching a flight. It’s not like buying Sudafed. (Or any of the other *canards* they’re talking about on FOX)

Voting is essential, Constitutional right. You can only take that right *away* under strict circumstances. The burden-of-proof is on hindrances to voting, not on the voter to surmount those OBSTRUCTIONS.

And there IS no proof, to require those hindrances. Just craven Republican vote-supression strategies. Period.

JC Fisher

John B. Chilton

I take it as axiomatic that the intent of the legislation [voter ID, shortening the period of early voting, etc.] is to suppress the vote for Democrats. Whether it has that effect is another question — it seems to me that recent elections have shown these efforts have increased turnout. Which is to say the intent and the effect are different; this legislation does not suppress the vote overall though it may disenfranchise a few (example: where polling places are changed with the purpose of creating confusion). Republicans are only doing a good job of shooting themselves in the foot and that effect is magnified by getting the word out about the intent of these changes in the law.

This isn’t our grandfather voter disenfranchisement through phony tests of knowledge. We’re talking about Republicans reversing policies enacted by Democrats who have made it extraordinarily easy to vote if you really care to. What the Republicans are doing is not apocalyptic. But I don’t blame Democrats for playing it that way. Especially in North Carolina where the Republicans have been out of power for some time, they’ve ended up more than reversing. If the Republicans stay in power it won’t be because they suppressed the vote. It will be in spite of that. It will be because of whatever brought them back to power in the first place.

Christopher Johnson

I’m having a hard time making the logic work between why requiring a voter ID, which is easily obtainable, constitutes “voter suppression” but requiring insurance and an up-to-date license plate for your car does not constitute “driver suppression,” some kind of secret EPA program to get more cars off the road. But I’ll take your word for it.

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