NAACP worries about Voting Rights Act changes

MARTINSBURG – At its meeting last week in Martinsburg, the West Virginia NAACP expressed concern about a recent decision the U.S. Supreme Court that invalidated a section of the Voting Rights Act that forced some states to apply to the Justice Department for pre-clearance before enacting changes to voting procedures and redistricting.

[cleeng_content id="136540794" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority opinion in Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder struck down a portion of Section 4 of the act, saying that it was based on a set of conditions that no longer existed.

“[N]o one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation at that time,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion.

Roberts argued that the VRA’s formula determining which states must apply, which was last modified in 1972, was outdated and therefore treated some states unfairly. He argued that Congress had failed to take new information into account when it renewed the law in 2006.

“Congress did not use the record [of voting discrimination] it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” Roberts wrote. “It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.

Roberts said recent appeals to that section of the act’s relevance rely on ‘second generation barriers,’ that are not “impediments to the casting of ballots, but rather electoral arrangements that affect the weight of minority votes.”

But members of the NAACP argue that striking down Section 4 has crippled a signature law of the civil rights movement and opened up the door for voting discrimination.

“The whole nation, I think, especially blacks who fought for desegregation of schools are concerned that that section of the law was very, very important,” said James Tolbert, a member of the Jefferson County NAACP. “That was a tool that the Justice Department could use to impose some sanctions on these states that did a whole lot of voter suppression.”

“We think that the change to the Voting Rights act is going to hurt minorities when they try to vote,” said Jefferson County NAACP president George Rutherford. “It will sort of dilute the vote, cut back on the number that will vote.”

Tolbert points to a number of southern states, including Texas, Mississippi and North Carolina, that subsequently passed voter ID laws or cut the number of days of early voting.

“We see it every day. They are trying to pass voter ID laws. They are trying to change the number of days of early voting,” Tolbert said, adding that he believes the intent of the laws is to discourage minority voting. “Yes, I think that is the intent. They couldn’t find any fraud, so they’re trying to find a way to stop blacks and Hispanics from voting.”

Rutherford said the Supreme Court was wrong to believe that Section 4’s formula was outdated.

“Look what happened right after the ruling,” Rutherford said. “That history is still here. Those states need to be monitored.”

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