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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 18, 2014 0

Honoring The Memory Of Murdered Civil Rights Workers

June 21 marks the 50th anniver­sary of the mur­ders of three young civil rights work­ers who trav­elled to Mis­sis­sippi for “Free­dom Sum­mer,” to help African Amer­i­can res­i­dents under­stand their con­sti­tu­tional rights and reg­is­ter to vote.  Fac­ing deep insti­tu­tional racism, fewer than five per­cent of the 500,000 black adults in Mis­sis­sippi were then reg­is­tered to vote.  Michael “Mickey” Schw­erner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Good­man, 20, knew they were risk­ing their lives for their cause. murdered-civil-rights-workers

On June 21, 1964, after they had inves­ti­gated the burn­ing of a black church, the three young men were reported miss­ing.    Forty-four days later, their bod­ies were found buried deep in a dam in Philadel­phia, Mis­sis­sippi.  The nation later learned that on their way back, the men’s car had been stopped for a pre­text traf­fic vio­la­tion and the three had been arrested and held for sev­eral hours.  On their release, they were fol­lowed and mur­dered by mem­bers of the Neshoba Coun­try Sheriff’s Depart­ment, Philadel­phia Police, and mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

When Mis­sis­sippi pros­e­cu­tors refused to press mur­der charges, fed­eral author­i­ties, led by Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­eral for Civil Rights John Doar, brought fed­eral crim­i­nal civil rights charges – with mixed results:  seven of the 18 defen­dants were con­victed, with sen­tences between three and ten years.  At the sen­tenc­ing in Decem­ber 1967, fed­eral judge William Harold Cox crudely explained, “They killed one nig­ger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.”  In 1999, a new gen­er­a­tion of Mis­sis­sippi law enforce­ment offi­cials reopened pro­ceed­ings, and in 2005 the State of Mis­sis­sippi indicted the Klan leader who had led the group.  ADL wel­comed his conviction.

The mur­ders in Mis­sis­sippi in 1964 out­raged the nation, pro­vid­ing addi­tional momen­tum to pro­pel pas­sage of the com­pre­hen­sive Civil Rights Act later that sum­mer – and the Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA), one of the most impor­tant, effec­tive civil rights laws – the fol­low­ing year.

We have come a long way as a nation since 1964, but vig­i­lance is nec­es­sary to retain that hard-earned progress.  In 2013, unfor­tu­nately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a crit­i­cal VRA pro­vi­sion in Shelby County v. Holder.  The League had urged the Court to uphold the Act in an ami­cus brief.  Instead, a nar­row Court major­ity elim­i­nated the for­mula to deter­mine which states must seek prior gov­ern­ment approval for vot­ing changes. The very day the deci­sion was handed down, a num­ber of states began enact­ing previously-blocked voter ID laws and redis­trict­ing mea­sures.

Now, fifty years later, the League is help­ing to lead a very large coali­tion work­ing to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, pro­mote equal­ity, and pro­tect the same vot­ing rights for which Schw­er­mer, Good­man, and Chaney gave their lives. ADL is urg­ing broad sup­port  for the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 (VRAA) which would cre­ate a new for­mula for pre-clearing vot­ing rights changes.

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January 17, 2014 1

Momentous Times For Voting Rights

Every year Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Day pro­vides a time to reflect on how far we have come in the quest for civil rights and how much more we have to do.  Two momen­tous devel­op­ments in vot­ing rights law give us rea­son to hope that 2014 will be a good year for ensur­ing that, nearly 50 years after the pas­sage of the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), all Amer­i­cans can exer­cise their fun­da­men­tal right to vote.

Yes­ter­day, mem­bers of Con­gress set aside their par­ti­san dif­fer­ences and intro­duced cru­cial new leg­is­la­tion to fix the gap­ing hole in the VRA cre­ated by the Supreme Court’s rul­ing last year in Shelby County v. Holdermlk-voting-rights-adlIn June the Supreme Court struck down the part of the law that deter­mined which states and local­i­ties with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices would have to “pre-clear” their laws with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the leg­is­la­tion.  In the 5–4 opin­ion Chief Jus­tice Roberts said that “Con­gress may draft another for­mula based on cur­rent conditions.” 

Con­gress heard that call.  The Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 (H.R. 3899/S. 1945) cre­ates a new for­mula to deter­mine which juris­dic­tions must pre-clear their laws going for­ward.  It also strength­ens courts’ abil­i­ties to mon­i­tor local­i­ties that imple­ment dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing laws, makes it eas­ier for vot­ers to spot vot­ing rights vio­la­tions, and reduces hur­dles to fix­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing laws.  The bill is not per­fect, but it pro­vides a very good start­ing point for ensur­ing that all Amer­i­cans will be able to make their voices heard in the demo­c­ra­tic process.  ADL looks for­ward to work­ing with mem­bers of Con­gress to strengthen the bill even fur­ther, and to pass­ing mean­ing­ful reform.

In another vic­tory for vot­ing rights, today a judge in Penn­syl­va­nia, in a case called Apple­white v. Com­mon­wealth of Penn­syl­va­nia, struck down the state’s law requir­ing vot­ers to show one of an enu­mer­ated list of government-issued photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to be able to vote.  Rec­og­niz­ing that “the over­whelm­ing evi­dence reflects that there are hun­dreds of thou­sands of qual­i­fied vot­ers who lack com­pli­ant ID,” and that “dis­en­fran­chis­ing vot­ers through no fault of the voter him­self is plainly uncon­sti­tu­tional,” the judge struck down the voter ID law.  He con­cluded that “vot­ing laws are designed to assure a free and fair elec­tion; the Voter ID Law does not fur­ther this goal.”  Stud­ies have con­sis­tently shown that voter ID laws, like the one struck down today in Penn­syl­va­nia, dis­pro­por­tion­ately impact minor­ity, low income, elderly, and young vot­ers.   Today’s rul­ing clears the way for more cit­i­zens to exer­cise their fun­da­men­tal right to vote.

Days before we cel­e­brate MLK Day we are heart­ened to know that Dr. King’s legacy of fight­ing for civil rights and equal­ity for all lives on.  Dr. King once famously said that “the arc of the moral uni­verse is long but it bends towards jus­tice.”  Over the last two days we have taken two steps for­ward on that arc, get­ting closer to a day when all Amer­i­cans will be able to exer­cise their right to vote, free of dis­crim­i­na­tory hurdles.

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