Editorial: Voting Rights Act Section 5 should not be struck down
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 19:02
The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law was enacted back during the civil rights era, with the relevant part at issue requiring several states and areas – most located in the Deep South – to receive preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department before making any changes regarding voting laws. The Court’s decision, expected in June after college has already let out for summer break, could potentially strike down one of the most important laws enacted in the past half-century.
Most legal opinions on the matter fall into one of three categories. The first opinion argues that the Justice Department should hold final say over voting laws enacted in any of the 50 states, not just the ones specifically (and many would say unfairly) singled out in the law as it currently stands. The second opinion believes that the law is optimal just the way it is, with the federal government stepping in with states that have historically passed burdensome or discriminatory laws while simultaneously stepping out with states that have done no such thing. The third opinion contends that the law should apply to zero states, and that the whole premise is an unconstitutional intrusion of the federal government into states’ rights.
While the first and second opinions both have merit, the third opinion does not hold up to the facts on the ground, meaning the Supreme Court should not strike the law down.
Republican governors in 2011 and 2012 made numerous efforts to restrict voting rights of minority populations, most frequently the poor, the young and African-Americans. For example, several states tried to pass (or actually did pass) laws banning voting the Sunday before a Tuesday election, supposedly because “voting should occur on Election Day.” But nearly everybody implicitly understood that the underlying motivation was to prevent voting by members of black churches, many of which traditionally go out in mass to vote following Sunday service. In Texas, meanwhile, Governor Rick Perry supported a law that required identification to vote, even though millions of voting-aged citizens have no identification. Texas, while accepting a gun license as acceptable identification, would not have allowed a college ID – a blatant attempt to promote the gun-happy conservative vote but suppress the young Democrat vote. Many of these state laws were rejected by the Justice Department.
You don’t see these kinds of attempts happening in Connecticut, or in almost any other state currently excluded from Section 5.
Whether the Voting Rights Act should be expanded to apply to every state, or whether the law should be kept unchanged is up for debate. But the petitioners’ argument that the 1965 Act no longer applies to the realities of 2013 is a falsehood. Perhaps a day will come when such a law will not need to exist in order to ensure any eligible citizen in the South can vote. Hopefully that day will come soon. Clearly, it has not occurred yet.