THE BLOG
07/02/2013 10:49 am ET Updated Sep 01, 2013

Preserving the Spirit of the Voting Rights Act

"The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long but it bends towards justice. "
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in Shelby, Alabama v. Holder -- citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In striking the formula basis for preclearance under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and amendments, the Supreme Court put the rock in the hand of Goliath.

On its face, the majority opinion in Shelby, Alabama v. Holder is erudite and solid. Upon further examination, however, the opinion fails to capture of the spirit of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act required certain jurisdictions, nine states and some counties, to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice, prior to making changes to voting requirements. The Supreme Court struck down the formula Congress developed for determining the preclearance requirements.

The Court reasoned that since the formula was developed over 40 years ago, discrimination has greatly diminished. The majority opinion noted that a number of minorities now hold office in the subjected jurisdictions. As a result Section 4, developed when voter discrimination was "pervasive, rampant, and wide spread," as the court phrased it, was no longer constitutionally viable.

There is certainly logic in this reasoning; however, it fails to capture the intent of the Voting Rights Act: to eradicate all discrimination in voting. The ruling hampers the federal government's ability to enforce voting rights. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent that utilizing the formula in Section 4, between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department blocked over 700 proposed changes to voting as having a discriminatory effect.

Ginsburg opined that deference should have been given to Congress, which had determined that the formula established in Section 4 was still the most effective means for enforcing the Voting Rights Act. As the Justice so eloquently stated, "It is the judgment of Congress that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of racism..."

The spirit of the Voting Rights Act, which includes its enforcement mechanisms, must be preserved along with the Act. That spirit still lives in people such as Congressman John Lewis who fought bravely and valiantly for the right to vote. That spirit still lives in the 80-year-old African-American voter carrying his/ her cane to the polls. That spirit still lives in the 20-year-old Hispanic American voter who read the ballot in Spanish. That spirit still lives in the voter in Shelby, Alabama, out in the woods who has no driver's license or formal ID. The burden is now on Congress to take the rock from the Goliath, and preserve the Voting Rights Act and its spirit. As the dean of the National Cathedral, the Very Reverend Gary Hall, indicated in his Sunday sermon on June 30, 2013, "It's not political, it's a matter of justice."