Voting Rights at Risk in Upcoming Supreme Court Case

Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders look on. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto courtesy of the LBJ library.

Note: this is a guest post by Elisabeth MacNamara, President of the League of Women Voters. Rooted in the movement that secured the right to vote for women, the League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government by working to educate voters and to increase understanding of major public policy issues, including protecting and engaging voters, reforming money in politics, and defending the environment.

In 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters to help democratize the right to vote. Yet over nine decades later, the League is fighting one of the greatest voting rights battles yet. On February 27th, the Supreme Court will review Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case that questions the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, the landmark legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in state voting practices. Should the Court rule against the VRA in Shelby v. Holder, millions of Americans could face disenfranchisement.

The Voting Rights Act, which is considered to be the most effective civil rights statute enacted by Congress, was designed to banish the “blight of racial discrimination in voting.” In particular, Section 5 of the VRA gives teeth to the law by requiring that specific states or jurisdictions with histories of discriminatory voting practices obtain “preclearance,” or federal approval, for proposed changes to elections laws to ensure new laws are not discriminatory. In Shelby v. Holder, Shelby County, Alabama, argues that preclearance is unnecessary because voting discrimination is a problem of the past.

Yet the evidence suggests otherwise: Since 1982, Section 5 has helped defeat approximately 2,400 discriminatory voting changes in the 16 states in which it has jurisdiction. Experts cite a number of recent cases in which lawmakers sought to make election changes that would have disenfranchised minority voters, such as attempts to require documentary proof of citizenship or a government-issued photo ID, cutbacks to early voting, and the purging of voter lists.

Fortunately, a number of human and civil rights organizations recognize the importance of Section 5 and agree with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Section 5 of the VRA is the “keystone of our voting rights.” Along with the likes of the Brennan Center for Justice, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Bar Association, the League of Women Voters of the U.S. and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC) recently submitted amicus briefs underscoring how Section 5 remains indispensable in protecting Americans’ right to vote.

When the VRA was last reauthorized a mere seven years ago in 2006, Congress declared that without its protections, “racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.” This assertion still rings true today, as the voting rights of millions of Americans are at risk should the Supreme Court rule against Section 5. Without Section 5, “We will see the clock turned back on our country,” said NAACP President Ben Jealous, and we can expect to see states consider a range of restrictions on voting unparalleled since the days of Jim Crow.

For more than 90 years, the League of Women Voters has worked to protect every American citizen’s right to vote. As February 27th approaches and the Supreme Court prepares to review Shelby County v. Holder, we hope that the Justices recognize the crucial role that Section 5 plays in preventing discrimination and upholding our democracy.

Join me and fellow supporters of the League of Women Voters and pledge to protect the Voting Rights Act and the right to vote for all eligible citizens.


Related Stories:

Let Others Do Your Voter Suppression Dirty Work, Supreme Court Tells Republicans

Supreme Court Protects Early Voting in Ohio

Which State Makes Voting the Most Difficult?



Tene Bane
Tene Bane4 years ago

reportedly hispanics, blacks(because blacks are more likely to be poor), and the poor more likely vote democrat, because some republicans are pro-kill the poor and immigrants, pro-close the boarder, and anti-welfare. some democrats are more tolerant of immigrants and give some welfare.

some republicans think if they close the boarders, kill and arrest poor and immigrants, and supress poor and immigrant voters by putting in voter id and discriminatory qualifications, then there wont be poor or immigrants to vote democrat.

put in a new consitutional amendement that says: everyone in the country must be allowed to vote, includeing prisoners and babys. no voteing restrictions allowed.

no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the united states. article XIV

voter id law, and similar voter suppression tactics, abridge the privileges of citizens of the united states by disallowing many of them, especially the poor, to vote, because many of them are unable to or cant afford to get a voter id. plus it abridges the privilege of citizens of the united states to not have to pay and jump thru hoops in order to vote.

voter id law is unconstitutional.

tell voter supressors to stop the much bigger problem: politican fraud, instead of supressing voters.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey5 years ago

In the 1950's and even in the 60's, many children were born at their rural farm. I mean rural. FARM.

If they ever went to a hospital, it was only for dire, life threatening(and often too late) illness or injury.

Many never went to the hospital to report the birth of their children. This is where the birth certificate is issued.

Lynda Duke
Lynda Duke5 years ago

VOTING is a right that belongs to everyone, of every color, nationality, creed, as long as they are AMERICAN CITIZENS! No one has the right to take that right away from a group of people because of their skin color or beliefs. Being able to speak one's mind, is a human right. VOTING is speaking one's own mind. Photo ID is a good thing. But don't take away a person's right to vote!

Karen Howard
Karen H5 years ago

Stephen D, check your facts.
I lived in a state where photo ID was required to vote—yet everybody knew more “dead” people voted every election. Fraud was rampant.
I don’t believe I’ve ever needed a photo ID to write a check. I simply write one to pay my bills and the companies cash them without question. That’s why identity theft is on the rise.
And, as Susan A points out, many of the seniors who have been disenfranchised weren’t born in hospitals and have no “official” birth records. How do you deal with that?
Don’t judge till you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, dude.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

Oh by the way, John H. I flagged your nasty and insulting comment. Really personal attacks are the way you attempt to make a point?

Susan Allen
SusanAWAY A5 years ago

John H., after reading our comments and knowing the very real problems experienced by many, many Americans in trying to obtain the proper ID for a myriad of reasons and yet, you can feel as you do about disenfranchising your fellow Americans from this very precious and important Constitutional right, then you, are the jackass, not the rest of us.

Phillip Ferrell
Phillip Ferrell5 years ago

If "preclearance is unnecessary because voting discrimination is a problem of the past," then why are they so eager to get rid of section 5? Anyone who is truthful to themselves and everyone else and has observed the way our current president has been treated knows that this law is still needed.

Brian F.
Brian F5 years ago

Stephen D Voter ID's are not easy to obtain for poor people and elderly people. Republicans know this and that is why they support voter ID laws.

Republicans can only win elections by fraud. The disenfranchisement of millions of poor black, hispanic, white, asian, and elderly voters, is what republicans want because that's how George Bush won his second term, and the only way republicans can win.

The right to vote is the most important right in our nation and every American must be given that opportunity regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. Only then can we have a true democracy.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

Stephen D.- You need to educate yourself to the facts and then get back with us.



Susan Allen
SusanAWAY A5 years ago

Stephen D., your conclusion is flawed. It is not so much young people that have problems with IDs, it is the old & generally the older American minorities, who were born at home or out in a field somewhere. Their birth may have been recorded somewhere or maybe not, but they've never needed an ID card to vote or do anything else in their life. In more simple times, many have been able to vote & receive other services without having an ID card. Exceptions were made, especially in smaller cities where everybody knew everybody. You want these folks to somehow come up with a birth certificate or something else that they're unable to obtain to vote. According to you, just screw those people; they will probably vote the wrong way anyway, right?And, let's not forget the very poor who might not have the money needed to obtain what you deem they should have in order to vote; or the people who are working 2 or 3 jobs just to try & feed their family & don't have time to go stand in lines all day trying to get the certification you think they should have in order to participate in our democratic process. In my opinion, people like you are paranoid, know it all twits. Someone, somewhere has convinced you that there are hoards of angry brown people trying to take over your government & your country. Where's your compassion, your understanding, & most of all, where is your intelligence. I'm guessing you lost it to Brietbart & Faux News.