Supreme Court 'Greenlight': States Line Up to Pass Discriminatory New Voter Laws

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by
Common Dreams

Supreme Court 'Greenlight': States Line Up to Pass Discriminatory New Voter Laws

NAACP: "Until we demand a fix for this problem, equal rights under the law and a fair vote will be no more than a promise to millions of voters."

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The flood gates have opened. Following the Tuesday Supreme Court ruling that gutted an essential protective from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a slew of states with a history of racial discrimination are already lining up to pass new voter identification laws all but guaranteeing increased minority voter suppression.

Hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, declared he was instantly implementing a controversial voter ID law that had been blocked by the Obama administration last August.

"With today's decision, the state's voter ID law will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas," he said. 

The law was initially blocked on the basis that the requirement to show photo identification before casting a ballot would have imposed "strict, unforgiving burdens" on poor minority voters, the Guardian reports.

The NAACP estimates that a quarter of African-Americans and 16% of Latinos of voting age lack a current government-issued photo ID and are thus at risk of disenfranchisement.

"The court's majority put politics over decades of precedent and the rights of voters," said NAACP President, Benjamin Todd Jealous. "We are more vulnerable to the flood of attacks we have seen in recent years."

"The Supreme Court's ruling sets the stage for a fight to ensure that people of color are not turned away from the ballot box using modern pretextual devices like photo identification," added NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan. "Until we demand a fix for this problem, equal rights under the law and a fair vote will be no more than a promise to millions of voters."

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines which states and localities—based on those locations having a history of racial discrimination—are subject to federal "preclearance" before changing any voting laws, from new congressional district maps to the precinct locations and voting hours. Prior to the ruling, nine states, including Texas, and parts of seven others were required to obtain the approval.

Tuesday's ruling also cleared the way for Alabama to pass a new voter identification law. Following the news, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Secretary of State Beth Chapman said they believed the voting requirement, which is scheduled to take effect with the June 2014 primaries, can now move forward without any oversight or preclearance. 

"Photo voter ID will the first process that we have gone through under this new ruling," Chapman stated. 

In addition to Texas and Alabama, a slew of other formerly Confederate states that had previously been subject to oversight are also announcing new legislation. The Associated Press reports:

[...] 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.

According to a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice, any weakening of preclearance requirements within the Voting Rights Act "would seriously threaten the rights of minority voters across the country to cast a ballot and generate additional confusion and litigation over voting rules."

They estimate that over the past 15 years the Justice Department has blocked discriminatory election changes from the listed jurisdictions 86 times. 

Myrna Pérez, author of the report, noted that the most "dangerous" changes would be those kept below the radar. "The biggest threats could come from small town officials making changes without any public notice or scrutiny – canceling an election, say, or moving the location of a polling station a week before election day" she said, adding, "We will be asking people to keep vigilant."

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