ATLANTA -- Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington's permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.
After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia's most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 opinion that struck down as outdated a key provision of the landmark 1965 law credited with ensuring ballot access to millions of black Americans, American Indians and other minorities. Roberts' opinion gives Congress an opportunity to retool the law's so-called preclearance sections that give the U.S. Justice Department veto power over local elections. But the prospects of a quick fix seem uncertain, at best, given stark ideological divides on Capitol Hill on a host of matters.
Southern Republicans largely hailed Roberts' opinion as recognition of racial progress since President Lyndon Johnson signed the law at the apex of the civil rights movement.
"Over the last half-century, Georgia has reformed, and our state is a proud symbol of progress," Gov. Nathan Deal said. "Today's decision guarantees that Georgia will be treated like every other state – a right we have earned." In neighboring Alabama, where the case originated, Gov. Robert Bentley said, "We have long lived up to what happened" in the Jim Crow era, "and we have made sure it's not going to happen again."
Democrats and civil rights attorneys lambasted the ruling as a setback for the very advancement Republicans highlighted, and the dissenters predicted a proliferation of laws designed to curtail minority participation in elections.
Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights activist who was beaten as he advocated for voting rights in the 1960s, called the ruling a "dagger."
President Barack Obama said he was "deeply disappointed" in the court overturning "well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair."
At Obama's Justice Department, officials opted for caution. They said the agency, which enforces federal voting laws, has in hand 276 submissions from state and local governments seeking preclearance. The department will issue guidance on those pending laws and procedures in the next few days, they said.
For five decades, the law required that certain states and localities with a history of discrimination submit all of their election laws – from new congressional district maps to the precinct locations and voting hours – to Justice Department lawyers for approval. Congress reauthorized the law multiple times, the latest in 2006 with overwhelming bipartisanship capped by a 98-0 Senate vote.
Election officials in Alabama's Shelby County, a suburban enclave nestled between civil rights hot spots Birmingham and Selma, brought suit asking the courts to invalidate Sections 4 and 5, which set preclearance parameters.
The Roberts majority, which included conservatives Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sidestepped whether the advance approval requirement is constitutional, ostensibly leaving Section 5 on the books. But the justices, all appointed by Republican presidents, threw out the Section 4 formula that determined what jurisdictions must have the advance federal oversight. Roberts reasoned that the original formula – extended through reauthorizations – is obsolete because Congress based it on 1960s voter registration and turnout data. The chief justice emphasized, however, that Congress can rewrite the formula to reflect "current conditions," though he didn't offer recommendations or acknowledge the inherent political challenges involved.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on behalf of the court's liberal bloc, all of them Democratic appointees. Ginsburg argued that continued discrimination, which Roberts himself noted in the majority opinion, demands continued federal oversight.
Critics of the majority also chided court conservatives for striking down congressional action, given that the 14th and 15th amendments authorize Congress to enact laws enforcing the amendments' protections against discrimination.
Before the ruling, the formula required reviews for all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia; and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.
Justice Department attorneys have used Section 5 in multiple cases to block voter identification laws, saying they discriminate against minority and poor voters who are less likely to have the required government-issued documents. Over the law's existence, many Southern states have ended up watching courts drawing legislative and congressional district lines after federal authorities used Section 5 to invalidate what state lawmakers did.
South Carolina has successfully implemented a voter identification law, but only after revising its preferred policy after Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans negotiated with the Obama administration. Under the court's ruling, no negotiations would've been necessary.
Within hours of Tuesday's decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared on Twitter, "(U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder can no longer deny VoterID in Texas." The Texas Department of Public Safety announced later in the day that on Thursday it would begin distributing photo IDs under a 2011 law that Holder's lawyers had blocked under Section 5.
In Mississippi, the secretary of state said her office would begin enforcing a pending voter ID law for primaries in June 2014. North Carolina Republicans said they plan swift action on a pending voter ID bill.
Laughlin McDonald, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's voting rights office, said he agrees that pending submissions to the Justice Department are now moot. It's less clear what happens to scores of laws that the feds have already denied since the 2006 reauthorization. McDonald said he believes a state or other covered jurisdiction would have a strong case to argue that it could implement any affected law it has passed since the reauthorization.
That could be an issue in some disputes over at-large voting districts. The Justice Department denied some proposals where the population of an entire county or city would elect all representatives of a governing body, potentially diluting the influence of a minority that would otherwise be able to influence outcomes within single districts.
The case does not affect the act's Section 2 prohibition against voter discrimination based on race, color or other minority status. Still, the burden shifts to a citizen who must prove discrimination, whereas the preclearance process required state and local governments to prove in advance that a policy wouldn't harm minority voters. Also untouched is Section 3, which allows the government to require preclearance based on more recent discrimination. The Justice Department has used that provision to extend oversight in Arkansas and New Mexico.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican who supports the court's finding, said Section 2 gives citizens a legal recourse, while Section 3 gives the government a tool to police wayward local officials. He noted that Holder used Section 2 to go after Pennsylvania's voter ID law in a state not covered by preclearance.
"Look," he said, "this is already happening in other states and nobody is screaming and hollering about it."
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President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama issued the following statement following the ruling: "I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act -- enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress -- has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. "As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) released this official statement after the ruling: “Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years. These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights. "I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits. This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected. "I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy. "As Justice Ginsberg mentioned, it took a Bloody Sunday for Congress to finally decide to fix on-going, institutionalized discrimination that occurred for 100 years after the rights of freed slaves were nullified at the end of the Civil War. I am deeply concerned that Congress will not have the will to fix what the Supreme Court has broken. I call upon the members of this body to do what is right to insure free and fair access to the ballot box in this country.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) released this statement following the ruling: “Today, the Supreme Court took a step backward on voting rights, on civil rights, on liberty and justice for all. This decision weakens the cause of voting rights in our time, disregards the challenges of discrimination still facing our country, and undermines our nation’s ongoing effort to protect the promise of equality in our laws. “Even with this setback, the court did place the power to reinforce the heart of the Voting Rights Act in the hands of Congress. As Members of Congress, we know that changes in election laws can have discriminatory effects. That’s why Congress made the determination that advance review of changes in election procedures is required for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. In 2006, Democrats and Republicans came together to reauthorize the law, garnering overwhelming bipartisan support in a Republican-led Congress – passing the House by a vote 390-33 and the Senate by a vote of 98-0, then signed into law by President George W. Bush. This year, we must follow in that same tradition, taking the court’s decision as our cue for further action to strengthen this legislation. “Voting rights are essential to who we are as Americans, to the cause of equality, to the strength of our democracy. It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to remove obstacles to voting, to ensure every citizen has the right to vote and every vote is counted as cast. We must secure the most basic privilege of American citizenship: the right to vote.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released the following statement after the ruling: "Less than one week after the Senate passed a resolution honoring Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis, a conservative majority of the Supreme Court has effectively struck down the core of the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in this Nation’s history. The Voting Rights Act has worked to protect the Constitution’s guarantees against racial discrimination in voting for nearly five decades, but an activist majority of the Court today acted to undo one of the most critical provisions of the Act. In striking down the coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act, the Court has dramatically undercut Section 5’s ability to protect American voters from racial discrimination in voting. The result is that many Americans who were protected by this law will now be vulnerable to discriminatory practices and will have much greater difficulty accessing the ballot box. "Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority’s rationale. The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable. Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions. Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting. "As we approach the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the March on Washington, it is especially compelling to remember that his dream has not yet been achieved. We have made great progress since that time and part of the Congress’ reauthorization of Section 5 a few years ago was based on the need to preserve that progress. Yet, I fear today’s decision will make it more difficult for racial minorities to have their right to vote fully protected. I look forward to working with my fellow members of Congress to restore the protections that John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and Fannie Lou Hamer knew that we needed to protect racial minorities from discrimination in voting."
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released this statement following the ruling: "I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court on this decision. Unencumbered voting is the surest path to enduring democracy, and the Voting Rights Act has been an essential protection against discrimination at the ballot box. This decision could open a floodgate of voter suppression efforts in states if Congress does not act swiftly to put protections back into place. "Instead of restricting access to the voting booth, we should reaffirm our commitment to the essential right that all citizens must have an opportunity to go to the polls and vote without fear. That’s what is happening in Massachusetts today, and it should happen in every election in every state. "The Supreme Court says that the Congress must now create a new set of protections, and I will fight to keep our democracy open, free, and without discrimination anywhere."
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.)
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) issued this statement after the ruling: "Today's Supreme Court's ruling invalidating the preclearance requirements contained within the Voting Rights Act is a win for fairness, South Carolina, and the rule of law. The preclearance requirement forced South Carolina to spend millions of dollars to defend a photo identification requirement for voting that had already been ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court. The court's ruling will hopefully end the practice of treating states differently and recognizes that we live in 2013, not the 1960's.”
Democratic National Committee Chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) took to <a href="https://twitter.com/DWStweets/status/349535772652740610" target="_blank">Twitter</a> to react to the ruling. "Disappointed by the #SCOTUS #VRA decision. Voting rights should be expanded, not limited." Schultz <a href="https://twitter.com/DWStweets/status/349535772652740610" target="_blank">tweeted</a>.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) released this statement following the ruling: “Today’s Supreme Court decision on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is deeply disappointing. The Court has taken the legs out from underneath the Voting Rights Act, making it impossible for the Department of Justice to enforce the critical civil rights protections afforded under Section 5. Free and fair access to the ballot box is fundamental to our democracy, so this provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been a key foundation of progress in many states across our country. “Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is what made it possible for the Department of Justice to intervene and stop 10 discriminatory election practices from going into effect just last year, and to prevent countless other discriminatory changes from even being proposed. Every day that our nation goes without a replacement formula under Section 4, voters in areas still subject to discriminatory practices will lack crucial protections. Congress must quickly adopt a new formula sufficient for restoring them. “The good news — if there is good news — is that the framework of the Voting Rights Act remains intact. The problem before us now can be solved with bipartisan legislative action, but it will take this Congress coming together to do it. After decades of strong bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act in Congress, it is my sincere hope that it is possible. I plan to work with Chairman Leahy and an array of experts to study the Court’s ruling and do everything possible to advance bipartisan legislation that puts in place a formula that will protect all voters and withstand constitutional scrutiny. “We cannot simply wish away racial discrimination, and although we have come a long way from the era of Jim Crow, the very real threat of discriminatory voting practices unfortunately remains a fact of life in too many parts of this country. Our country needs common sense, bipartisan legislation to close the floodgates to discriminatory practices re-opened by the Supreme Court today.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) issued this statement after the ruling: “Today, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a key element of the law that provides the formula for determining which state is covered by the law’s pre-clearance requirement. Pre-clearance of voting law changes is an essential tool for fighting discrimination across the country. It is a major setback for voting rights that the Court deemed Section 4 of the law unconstitutional. Congress must act quickly to make sure that the Voting Rights Act continues to stop discriminatory changes in voting laws before they are put in place. While some might think that discrimination is an act of the past, we have seen several examples for why we still need laws in place to vigorously protect the right to vote. This is why I have joined Senator Gillibrand in pushing for the Voter Empowerment Act in order to give the federal government additional tools to ensure every voter can cast their vote and have that vote counted. We should find ways to make it easier to vote instead of restricting one of our most fundamental rights.”
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.)
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) released the following statement after the ruling: “The Supreme Court’s decision this morning is deeply disappointing and a devastating blow to the preservation of voter rights and protections. The Voting Rights Act has proven to be critical, time and time again, in protecting the right to vote, free from discrimination. I wish that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, but the fact is, this persistent discrimination is not a thing of the past. We have seen far too many cases, in just the last election, of efforts to block fellow Americans from casting a ballot. This morning’s ruling is a major setback to Americans’ right to vote, and a roll back in the march of progress our nation has made in civil rights. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. It is important that Congress take swift and immediate action to ensure that every American has access to the ballot box.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) issued this statement after the ruling: “The Voting Rights Act has been a cornerstone of ensuring the rights won in the Civil Rights movement continue to stand strong today. The Supreme Court’s ruling is a significant setback that will put Congress to the test of whether we can move quickly and without partisanship. I urge my colleagues to meet that test. “We must be clear -- The Voting Rights Act is not ancient history. Just last year alone, Section 5 helped prevent discrimination across the country – on issues ranging from state ID’s to redistricting and reducing early voting. Voting is a sacred right and ensuring that every vote counts is a cornerstone of our democracy that must be embraced by both sides of the aisle. “The last time Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it was passed for the fourth time with sweeping bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. We must come together once again to ensure that every American has the fundamental right to vote regardless of which community they live in.”
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.)
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) released this statement after the ruling: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is disappointing. During a time when we should be encouraging democracy and expanding the right to vote, we find it becoming more difficult to do so across the country. "The decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act is a step backward on civil and voting rights. Voting is a fundamental right and is essential to our democracy. As a Congressman, I am working to protect the civil rights of all Americans, including the right to cast a ballot without fear of indirect systematic discrimination against minorities. "I remain firmly committed to preventing voter suppression and recently introduced the Time Off to Vote Act (H.R. 2350). The legislation would require employers to grant workers at least two hours of paid leave to vote in federal elections. I urge my colleagues to responsibly address the formula issue and work to protect voters’ rights.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued this statement after the ruling: “The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of the clear evidence we continue to see of efforts to suppress the vote in minority communities across the country. It is devastating that the Court’s conservative majority would strike down a central provision of the law that has protected the voting rights of all Americans for nearly a half century, and was reauthorized by Congress almost unanimously just seven years ago. I’ll be working with my Senate colleagues to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American can participate fully in our democracy.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released the following statement after the ruling: “Make no mistake about it, this is a back door way to gut the Voting Rights Act. As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance. It is confounding that after decades of progress on voting rights, which have become part of the American fabric, the Supreme Court would tear it asunder.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-V.t.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-V.t.) issued the following statement after the ruling: “The Supreme Court has turned back the clock on equality in America by striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The landmark civil rights law that Congress passed almost five decades ago, and reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan support only seven years ago, has been an important tool to protect voters in places with a history of discrimination. The law is as necessary today as it was in the era of Jim Crow laws. We must act immediately to rewrite this vital law.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) released the following statement following the ruling: "I am deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling today. Congress did the right thing by putting the Voting Rights Act into place in the first place and by reaffirming it time and time again over the last fifty years. Voting discrimination still exists—Congress has repeatedly come to that conclusion and the Supreme Court itself acknowledged it. By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Court has dealt a major setback for voting rights and the decision will have a real and detrimental impact on voters." "In a 5-4 ruling today, the Supreme Court ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as unconstitutional. Section 4 identifies state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination, and Section 5 requires them to get approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures. Congress passed the VRA in 1964, and reauthorized it several times since then, most recently in 2006. In its consideration of that last reauthorization, Congress found overwhelming evidence that discrimination in voting was still a problem in the jurisdictions covered by Section 4 and reauthorized the Act by a vote of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. "Between 1982 and 2006 the Department of Justice blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory, and more than 800 more proposed changes were modified or abandoned after the Department of Justice asked for more information about them."
Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) issued this statement after the ruling: “This ruling doesn’t invite a better, more updated formula, it invites gridlock,” Grijalva said. “Today the majority on the Court washed its hands of evidence of discrimination, declared the current remedies invalid, and intentionally left it to a damaged institution to invent a new solution from scratch. That’s not going to sit well with millions of Americans who face disenfranchisement.” Grijalva noted that DOJ has blocked hundreds of proposed changes to electoral boundaries under Section 5 over the past several decades. “What about this law is broken?” he asked. “What about this law isn’t working? It’s doing exactly what it was intended to do – prevent discrimination and disenfranchisement. This is a political decision that will undermine confidence in our electoral process. Now people who experience problems will only be able to go to court after they’ve been denied their rights. This is a recipe for preventable legal trouble on a national scale. In that sense, this ruling is a disaster waiting to happen.” Congress reauthorized the current Voting Rights Act preclearance formula just seven years ago. Today’s decision renders that act of Congress invalid. “We proved in 2006, as we have several times previously, that preventing racial voting discrimination is a bipartisan goal,” Grijalva said. “I hope it remains a bipartisan goal and that Congress acts on this as soon as possible. Trust in government, as we’ve seen, is not inexhaustible. We need to take this seriously before any more Americans lose faith.”
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.)
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.) released the following statement after the ruling: “Our vote is our voice; the powerful right and sacred responsibility that fuels our entire system of government. While great strides have been made to ensure equal access at the ballot box, there is no question that discrimination persists across this country and demands our ongoing vigilance. “I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision today but hopeful Congress will use this setback as an opportunity to come together and strengthen the Voting Rights Act for generations to come.”
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) issued this statement after the ruling: “I consider my vote for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 among the most important of my entire career. While I recognize that times have changed since 1965, I am angered by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut one of the single most important anti-discrimination laws on our books. By striking down Section 4, the Court, by extension, has rendered Section 5 – which requires federal preclearance for certain states to change their voting laws – unenforceable. Without an effective backstop to prevent the kind of abuses the Act sought to address, I fear that many minority Americans will be further subjected to the very same types of discrimination that nearly tore our country apart in the 1960s. Congress absolutely must act swiftly to pass bipartisan legislation that will restore and re-empower the Voting Rights Act. We did so by large margins in 1965—in the face of a divided country— and we can again, provided we put aside partisan antics and compel ourselves to do what is right for this country and all who live in it.”
Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)
Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) released the following statement after the ruling: “By a slim 5-4 majority, the Court has now substituted its own judgment for the bi-partisan and near unanimous findings of the Congress, ignoring the current record of voting problems compiled by Congress that supported the continued need for the Voting Rights Acts’ coverage formula and preclearance requirement. We must act immediately to respond to this decision and restore the Voting Rights Act’s key enforcement mechanism.” "Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) is the Ranking Democratic Member on the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee. He was previously the Chairman of the Subcommittee. "In that capacity, he played an active role in the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, including the section struck down by the Supreme Court today, and was joined with other colleagues in filing an amicus brief in support of the Act in the Shelby County Case."
Joaquín Castro (D-Texas)
Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) issued this statement after the ruling: "The courts have found intentional voter discrimination and suppression in Texas as recently as this past year. Fortunately for Texans, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been successfully used as a tool for the past 38 years to ensure that these anti-democracy efforts are not implemented. Today’s Supreme Court decision effectively allows these extreme laws to go into effect in places where voter suppression legislation is being pushed through state legislatures. This decision is a major setback for Texans and all Americans whose most fundamental voting rights are being trampled in right-wing state legislatures. In Texas, following today’s decision, the Attorney General is already calling on the most extreme voting ID laws to be implemented in our state. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to act swiftly to ensure that all Americans have the freedom to be full participants of our democracy by protecting every American’s right to vote."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released the following statement after the ruling: "Today’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act is a deeply disappointing example of extreme judicial activism. The Court’s conservative majority effectively ignored the Senate’s clear and unambiguous affirmation of the Voting Rights Act by a vote of ninety-eight to zero, a reauthorization that was signed into law by President Bush. This case was wrongly decided and will unjustly threaten the right to vote for millions of Americans across this country. This decision poses a special threat to voter participation among African Americans and Hispanic Americans, who have historically and disproportionately experienced discrimination when voting. “Now it is up to Congress to right the wrong of this decision and ensure that we do not turn back the clock on America’s democratic progress. The Senate will act. I have asked Chairman Leahy to immediately examine the appropriate path for the Senate to address this decision. Voting is the most fundamental of our American rights, and the Voting Rights Act is one of the most important laws Congress has ever passed. “We need look no further than the recent election to see the unfortunate reality that bigotry still exists in our country. In 2012, there were efforts in some states to do everything possible to suppress voter turnout in minority communities. This is unacceptable, and it is a reminder of the importance of the Voting Rights Act. We should be doing everything possible to encourage participation in the democratic process and ensure every eligible voter is able to exercise his or her right to cast a ballot. “Ensuring every Americans’ basic right to vote is an issue where Democrats and Republicans should be able to find common ground. This is the strength of our democracy, and I am confident in Congress’s ability to judge what is necessary to prevent racial discrimination in election practices."
Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.)
Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), authors of the <em>Right to Vote Amendment </em>, issued this statement after the ruling: “Today’s Supreme Court decision is an assault on what should be our most fundamental right as Americans. While the Court is correct that current law to protect voters from discriminatory voting laws is outdated, it is because it’s not expansive enough. The right to vote is under attack across the country. Already in 2013, more than 30 states have introduced over 80 restrictive voting laws that often target low-income, student, elderly and minority voters. “As disappointed as we are by today’s decision, it demonstrates why we cannot wait to enact a constitutional amendment that would guarantee an affirmative right to vote for all Americans—no matter where they live. A country built on the foundation of civic participation should never tolerate any politically-motivated threats to our ability to express our views at the polls. We will continue to work with our colleagues and build the grassroots support needed to ensure we protect our right to vote.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued this statement after the ruling: “Today the Supreme Court rolled back one of the most effective safeguards to Americans’ fundamental right to vote. This decision significantly slows the march of progress we’ve made since the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965. “There is still persistent voter discrimination that must be addressed, from longer voting lines for minorities to the racially motivated efforts to suppress the vote we saw in the 2012 presidential election. “The ball is now in Congress’s court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is already taking action to restore protections for minority voters, and I call on Speaker Boehner to exercise true leadership in the House. “This is our watch, and we must guard our rights—for ourselves and generations yet unborn. We must act swiftly and decisively, in a bipartisan manner as we did in 2006, to create a new formula to ensure that the Voting Rights Act remains a powerful tool to protect voters from discrimination.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) released the following statement after the ruling: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling turns back the clock for voting rights at a time when too many Americans still face discrimination in our country. The Voting Rights Act has been a cornerstone to ensuring that all citizens are able to participate in our democracy. By invalidating one of its core provisions, the Court has upset years of established practices that helped ensure voting is more fair. “Congress must act immediately to strengthen this law. The right to vote is at the very heart of our constitution and our democracy. We should not rest until we’ve removed all obstacles to voting.”
Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.)
Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-N.J.) issued this statement after the ruling: “I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision today to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. This ruling is not only a major setback for civil rights and voting rights, but it is a major blow to basic fundamental democracy in this country. It’s now up to Congress to work together, reach across the aisle, and share the responsibility in protecting one of our most sacred and fundamental rights. Access to the ballot on Election Day may be one of the only times that the most disadvantaged in our communities have an equal voice regardless of what they look like or where they come from. A vote at the ballot box transcends gender, race, religion, or socio-economic status. Knowing that an 80-year-old veteran, a single mom, or an 18-year-old high school senior voting for the first time has an equal vote, and thus an equal voice, as a millionaire or billionaire is what has separated us and made our nation great. Now more than ever, Congress must rise above partisanship and create free and unfettered access to the ballot.”