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July 15, 2015 1

The Voting Rights Advancement Act: Necessary to Ensure Voting Rights for All

Almost fifty years ago, on August 6, 1965, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son signed the his­toric Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA), one of the most impor­tant and effec­tive pieces of civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the almost half cen­tury since its pas­sage, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is unde­ni­able. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has sup­ported pas­sage of the VRA and every reau­tho­riza­tion since 1965, filed ami­cus briefs urg­ing the Supreme Court to uphold the law, pro­moted aware­ness about the impor­tance of the VRA, and encour­aged the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to use the VRA to pro­tect vot­ing rights for all.

VRA interns for web

The last time Con­gress extended the VRA, it did so after an exhaus­tive exam­i­na­tion of vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and the impact of the VRA – days of hear­ings and thou­sands of pages of doc­u­men­ta­tion. The leg­is­la­tion passed over­whelm­ing: 390 to 33 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 98–0 in the Senate.

Notwith­stand­ing this over­whelm­ing sup­port and exhaustively-documented leg­isla­tive his­tory – and the unde­ni­ably extra­or­di­nary impact of the VRA–a bit­terly divided 5–4 major­ity of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down §4(b) of the VRA (the for­mula to deter­mine which states and polit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions would have to pre­clear all vot­ing changes) in Shelby County v. Holder , essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.

Almost imme­di­ately after the deci­sion, states that had been sub­ject to pre­clear­ance over­sight for vot­ing changes began enact­ing laws that threaten to dis­pro­por­tion­ately dis­en­fran­chise minor­ity, young, poor, and elderly vot­ers. Texas, for exam­ple, enacted a strict plan that fed­eral courts had pre­vi­ously rejected, find­ing that there was “more evi­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tory intent than we have space, or need, to address here….Simply put, many His­pan­ics and African Amer­i­cans who voted in the last elec­tions will, because of the bur­dens imposed by SB 14 , likely be unable to vote.”

Texas was not alone in quickly mov­ing to enact unwar­ranted voter ID laws and restric­tions on voter reg­is­tra­tion and early vot­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. In fact, the efforts over the last few years to restrict vot­ing rights around the coun­try are unprece­dented in mod­ern Amer­ica. The United States has not seen such a major leg­isla­tive push to limit vot­ing rights since right after Reconstruction

In Shelby County, the Court invited Con­gress to craft a new for­mula based on its guid­ance. This leg­is­la­tion, the Vot­ing Rights Advance­ment Act, has now been intro­duced in both the House and the Sen­ate. The mea­sure would update the cov­er­age for­mula, put in place addi­tional safe­guards for vot­ing, and help ensure that all Amer­i­cans can have their say in our democracy.

As we cel­e­brate the anniver­sary of the VRA, it’s time to leg­is­late, not just commemorate.

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June 25, 2014 0

One Year After Shelby, Voters Are Getting Wet

Today marks the one year anniver­sary of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the land­mark Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.voting-rights-amendment-act-2014

Sec­tion 5 of the VRA requires fed­eral gov­ern­ment approval for any elec­tion law changes—issues rang­ing from polling site loca­tions to redraw­ing con­gres­sional dis­trict lines—in juris­dic­tions with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices. But one year ago, the Supreme Court held uncon­sti­tu­tional the for­mula used to deter­mine which states and local­i­ties would have to sub­mit their vot­ing changes to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, find­ing its ori­gins in vot­ing sta­tis­tics and statutes from decades past too atten­u­ated to jus­tify present day fed­eral intervention.

In Shelby, Chief Jus­tice Roberts cited advances in minor­ity vot­ing and reg­is­tra­tion in the cov­ered juris­dic­tions, not­ing that African Amer­i­can turnout sur­passes white turnout in some of the pre­vi­ously cov­ered states.

But Jus­tice Gins­burg, in her pow­er­ful dis­sent, analo­gized strik­ing down key parts of the VRA to “throw­ing away your umbrella in a rain­storm because you are not get­ting wet.” In essence Jus­tice Gins­burg pre­dicted that, with­out the pro­tec­tions of the VRA, voter sup­pres­sion prob­lems would rain down on those for­merly cov­ered juris­dic­tions once more.

Indeed, a new report by the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Human Rights sug­gests that the skies remain omi­nously over­cast. Moments after the Supreme Court announced its deci­sion, Texas imple­mented voter ID and redis­trict­ing laws pre­vi­ously held invalid under Sec­tion 5. Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi sim­i­larly moved for­ward with voter ID laws pre­vi­ously held at bay. Weeks after the deci­sion, North Car­olina acted to elim­i­nate same-day voter reg­is­tra­tion, restrict early vot­ing, and enact one of the tough­est voter ID laws in the country.

Vir­ginia fur­ther tight­ened a voter ID law pre­vi­ously approved by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in a more lenient form. Around the coun­try, leg­is­la­tors con­tinue to intro­duce new bills that threaten to restrict the right to vote.

The impact of these laws on minor­ity vot­ers remains to be seen, and some face legal obsta­cles before going into effect. Recent fed­eral court deci­sions in Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia inval­i­dat­ing voter ID laws demon­strate that avenues may remain for fed­eral enforce­ment of vot­ing rights. And efforts are ongo­ing to revive Sec­tion 5 through lit­i­ga­tion and through new leg­is­la­tion. But the devel­op­ments in the one year since Shelby County serve as an impor­tant reminder that the right to vote remains ten­u­ous and must be vig­i­lantly pro­tected, par­tic­u­larly with­out the safe­guards of Sec­tion 5.

On this one-year anniver­sary of Shelby, take action and urge Con­gress to restore Sec­tion 5 by pass­ing the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014.

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June 13, 2013 3

Farrakhan Invited By Public Officials To Alabama Rallies

Update – June 17, 2013: Dur­ing his remarks in front of the Alabama State Capi­tol, Far­rakhan report­edly stated that white peo­ple, “don’t have the will to allow you to vote uncon­tested.” Far­rakhan also report­edly told the crowd that Jews “know the value of money” and “mis­use their power.” Speak­ers at the rally had no short­age of praise for Far­rakhan. Sen. Hank Sanders’ wife, Faya Toure, a Selma lawyer who helped orga­nize the event, called Far­rakhan “one of the great­est lead­ers of our gen­er­a­tion. I don’t care what the SPLC says, I don’t care what the Jews say.”

Update – June 14, 2013: In a let­ter to the Birm­ing­ham Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion, State Sen­a­tor Hank Sanders reit­er­ated his unabashed sup­port for Louis Far­rakhan speak­ing at the Alabama ral­lies. In the let­ter, Sanders stated, “I applaud him [Far­rakhan] for the good things he has done,” turn­ing a blind eye to Farrakhan’s decades of hate­ful words against Jews, white peo­ple, and the LGBT community.

Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Far­rakhan was invited by a group of Alabama elected offi­cials to par­tic­i­pate in mul­ti­ple June 14 ral­lies to sup­port the exten­sion of the fed­eral Vot­ing Rights Act. The ral­lies will take place in Birm­ing­ham, Selma, the Shelby County Cour­t­house, and the steps of the State Capi­tol in Montgomery.farrakhan-alabama-jews

The invi­ta­tion to Far­rakhan comes at a time when Far­rakhan has made numer­ous egre­giously anti-Semitic state­ments, claim­ing that “Satanic Jews” and the “Syn­a­gogue of Satan” con­trol America’s gov­ern­ment, econ­omy, media, and other sectors.

Despite his recent hate­ful state­ments in Detroit as well as his racist and anti-Semitic remarks over a three-decade career, Far­rakhan was pub­licly endorsed by Alabama State Sen­a­tors Hank Sanders (D-Selma) and Bobby Sin­gle­ton (D-Greensboro) and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford.

Dur­ing a speech in front of the seal of the Alabama State House last week, Sen­a­tor Sanders said, “We’re really proud that the Hon­or­able Min­is­ter Louis Far­rakhan has agreed [to speak].”

Mayor Ford added, “We reached out to Min­is­ter Far­rakhan because we know that he has the power to mobi­lize Black peo­ple as well as some whites who believe in progress in work­ing for free­dom and jus­tice.” He also called Farrakhan’s par­tic­i­pa­tion “his­toric.” Ford pre­vi­ously pub­licly show­ered Far­rakhan with praise in March. While intro­duc­ing Far­rakhan before his speech to stu­dents at Tuskegee Uni­ver­sity, Ford gave him a key to the city and pro­claimed him “hon­orary mayor of Tuskegee for life.”

On June 5, ADL called the invi­ta­tion “a ter­ri­ble mis­take” and urged the pub­lic offi­cials who invited Far­rakhan to Alabama to “with­draw their invi­ta­tion and reject his hate­ful rhetoric.”

In addi­tion to the elected offi­cials, oth­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing include the NAACP and the South­ern Chris­t­ian Lead­er­ship Conference.

Farrakhan’s demo­niza­tion of Jews expands beyond his pub­lic speeches. He also spreads his hate­ful con­spir­a­to­r­ial world­view through social media, the NOI’s tra­di­tional media arm, and his 52-week online lec­ture series, launched in Jan­u­ary 2013.

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