US Supreme Court’s Ruling on the Voting Rights Act
According to many, the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act removed the heart of the Act and reopens the door for voter suppression, intimidation, and abuse. Today, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court. The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.
Across the country, for the past several years, there have been reports of efforts being made to shrink the pool of Americans who will be able to vote in the years ahead. In thirty-eight (38) states and counting, strict new voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting and Sunday voting, and racially motivated bans on ex-felons have either been passed or proposed.
As was aptly stated by President Johnson when discussing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” With that knowledge, there have been rallies across the country to stand up against the forces trying to block the right to vote for millions. The persons in attendance at these events understand that, if we, as citizens, do not take action to stop restrictions on voting, no one will.
Voting is the one right that practically defines a democracy. The right to vote is one of the cornerstones of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, during periods of history in America, millions of this nation’s citizens were denied this most precious right based on an immutable characteristic such as race. In the century following Reconstruction, African-Americans in the South faced overwhelming obstacles to vote. Despite the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which had enfranchised black men and women, southern voter registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic impediments to deny African-Americans their legal rights. Southern blacks also risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote. Elsewhere, other minorities also suffered this type of discrimination. As a result, African-Americans and other people of color had little if any political power, either locally or nationally. It took the courageous civil rights movement to put an end to this discrimination.
In response voter discrimination, the Voting Rights Act was adopted initially in 1965 and extended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006. The Act made it a federal crime to deny a citizen the right to vote. It outlawed a number of tricks and schemes used for decades to disenfranchise African-Americans. No longer could racists in state governments use literacy tests, poll taxes, and other devices to keep African-Americans from registering to vote. The Voting Rights Act also allowed the federal government to oversee voter registration and elections in places where discrimination occurred. The Act has been described by Irving Bernstein as “a rare and glittering moment in the history of American democracy.”
The Voting Rights Act has often been referred to as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress. The Voting Rights Act codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment’s permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. In addition, the Act contains several special provisions that impose even more stringent requirements in certain jurisdictions throughout the country.
At least 31 states are considering laws that make it harder for people of color and young, elderly, and disabled citizens to vote. An upcoming decision from the Supreme Court on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act may make the implementation of these state laws easier than ever before. All our children deserve to grow up in a country where their voting rights are protected, and where they are respected and supported no matter what race or color they may be.
Voting is a cherished right. Countless brave people gave up their lives to secure that right. Federal law guarantees it. Now it’s up to each of us to protect the right to vote and to make our vote count.
Source(s): US Constitution. Wikipedia. US Department of Justice. NAACP. Stand For Freedom. National Urban League
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