Sewell: The Ironic Challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965

By Sewell, Terri A | Roll Call, March 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Sewell: The Ironic Challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965


Sewell, Terri A, Roll Call


After almost 50 years of expanding and protecting voting rights, a new threat comes from an unlikely place - the U.S. Supreme Court. Last Wednesday, the justices heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that will decide the survival of preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require federal oversight of voting practices in 16 states, including Alabama.

The Voting Rights Act, which was passed as result of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march, provides legal protections for individuals in states with histories of discriminatory voting practices. Since its passage in 1965, the act has been critical in ensuring that millions of our nation"s minority citizens are guaranteed the right to vote.

I feel compelled to write this op-ed because I am deeply concerned about the erosion of voting rights that sadly still exist in our state and in this nation. Perhaps the biggest irony is that the current threat to this legislation comes from the very state that was the impetus for its passage almost 50 years ago.

In the lawsuit, Shelby County, Ala., questions whether the preclearance requirement is still necessary to curb actions that would disenfranchise the vote. They argue that the racial and political biases that once existed have subsided, and that the suppression of the minority by the majority is only relevant in a historical context.

Unfortunately, we don"t have to look far to see evidence to the contrary. The actions of state legislatures across this nation prior to the 2012 elections tell a compelling story. Of the nine states that are currently required to obtain preclearance from the federal government, six successfully passed restrictive voting legislation leading up to the 2012 presidential election, including Alabama.

During its first year in power, our Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a law requiring a photo ID to cast a ballot, in spite of the fact that such a mandate disportionately affects minorities, seniors and the disabled who are less likely to have such identification.

This is exactly the kind of discriminatory voting efforts that the Voting Rights Act protects against by requiring covered jurisdictions to obtain "preclearance' or federal approval for proposed changes to election laws. …

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