A New Future for the Voting Rights Act?
Inalienable civil rights might actually still be a concept, if Attorney General Holder has anything to do with it. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder I was not convinced.
If you aren’t familiar with the case, this major decision essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act, rendering section 5 unconstitutional. What this unfortunate decision ultimately did was disallow mandatory Department of Justice approval before states (with a history of discrimination) could alter their voting laws. Simply put, in several southern states, people of color and other marginal groups will now be confronted with overt voting discrimination similar to that seen in the mid 1900’s.
But the fight is not over yet, people. Justice, for once, might actually prevail. Just this morning the Obama administration announced “an aggressive end-run around” attempt to hopefully restore the essential section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Attorney General Holder will lead this honorable campaign, highlighting the need for state preclearance processes in states like Texas. Speaking at the National Urban League conference, Holder continued, stating “We cannot allow the slow unraveling of the process that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much so achieved!” And to that I say, Amen.
Now, this is not to encourage excitement over simple rhetoric. Too often passionate rhetoric is just that, passionate rhetoric, void of subsequent action. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court is usually the last institution to speak on any law. After that, direct reaction seems to be irrelevant. That being said, I find it especially encouraging that some people are working to reverse or level this retrogressive Court decision. One important question, however, still remains: If successful, will section 5 of the VRA protect all marginal groups, or specifically Latinos in southern states like Arizona and Texas?
Coverage of the VRA gutting has been especially central to the Latino community. Understandably, with racist right-wing political leaders implementing voting id laws in areas with large Latino communities, this should come as no surprise. Sadly, there seems to be this pervasive idea that black voters aren’t actively suppressed, and this is simply false. The fact of the matter is that in many states -i.e. Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, etc.- black voters are confronted with the same voting policies that actively disenfranchised their ancestor’s. More alarming is the complete and permanent disenfranchisement of convicted felons in Florida and Iowa. Considerably, with this promised charge against the Supreme Court decision, a section 5 that recognizes discrimination is prevailing and not specific to one geographic area or one specific marginal group is tantamount.
Justice Ginsburg said: “Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.” Though I love Justice Ginsburg, I actually disagree with this statement. This statement reifies the national trend to actively protects and advocates for the Latino voting rights, while simultaneously ignoring black voting rights. While I applaud Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration on their legal crusade against injustice, I sincerely hope that this more inclusive idea is central. In whatever case, let’s all cross our fingers and wish them luck!