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July 15, 2015

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

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

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

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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