Feb 22 2013

Supreme Court To Decide on Challenge to the Voting Rights Act

Staring next week, the Supreme Court of the United States will start hearing arguments challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, otherwise known as the “preclearance” provision. Section 5 requires that States with a history of voter discrimination run any changes they make to their voting requirements before the Federal Government prior to instituting any changes. The case title Shelby County v. Holder will challenge the Act which was established in 1965 to help ensure that millions of Americans who were once denied the right to vote have equal opportunity to cast their vote.

Listen to Thom Hartmann discuss the challenge to the Voting Rights Act with Myrna Perez, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice.

HARTMANN: I’m curious about your thoughts on the argument going before the Supreme Court that could conceivably blow up the Voting Rights Act.

PEREZ: For generations the Voting Rights Act has been instrumental in protecting the fundamental right to vote. It is one of our landmark civil rights laws. On February 27th Shelby County Alabama is challenging a very important and effective provision of the Voting Rights Act called Section 5 or sometimes called the pre-clearance provision. What that part of the Voting Rights Act does is requires certain places that have a documented history of voting discrimination to submit any change they want to do to election procedures to either the Department of Justice or a Federal District Court before it goes into effect. And, it will not go into effect unless it can be established that the change would not make minority voters worse off or it was not enacted to try and make minority voters worse off. This is an incredibly important part of the Voting Rights Act because it stops discrimination before it occurs.

HARTMANN: And typically this was enforced against the old Confederate Southern States?

PEREZ: Against those States that have had a documented history of racial discrimination.

HARTMANN: Was there not a huge overlap between those Confederate States?

PEREZ: That is in fact the case.

HARTMANN: I want you to give us your thoughts on how this is going to play out and who’s behind it and what’s going on, but also it seems to me that Pennsylvania for example, Wisconsin, Michigan . . . you’ve got States that were not part of the Confederacy that are not subject to oversight by the Voting Rights Act because there hasn’t been this history of discrimination that are passing voter ID laws that are nakedly established to diminish the role of minorities in the electoral process. Shouldn’t the Voting Rights Act be expanded? Shouldn’t the DOJ be saying, hey wait a minute we’re seeing more of this kind of discrimination?

Listen to the rest of the interview with Myrna Perez.

Thom’s Guest: Myrna Perez, Senior Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

Visit the Brennan Center for Justice website.

SONALI KOLHATKAR IS ON MATERNITY LEAVE.

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