Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) told the audience at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, “we have come too far together to ever turn back,” warning that Republican-led voter suppression laws are taking America back to the days when states had the right to deny voting capabilities to minority voters. Voting rights for minority voters continue to come under attack as Republican leaders are now turning to the Supreme Court to overturn historic civil rights legislation.
Several federal judges recently struck down voter suppression laws in multiple states, introduced by Republican legislators and governors, such as voter identification laws, provisional voting restrictions, limits on voter registration drives, and reduced availability for early voting.
The court rulings in Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, marked a widespread rejection of so called 'voter fraud' legislation, which seeks to greatly limit who can and cannot vote.
However, as Chris McGreal at the Guardian reports today, "Several state governments are [now] looking to the conservative-leaning supreme court, which has already expressed its doubts about racially-based policy," in order to overturn these rulings. This step would seek to challenge the historic Voter Rights Act of 1965, which gave the federal government some control over voting rules in states with a history of blocking African Americans from voting.
In question is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires "pre-clearance" for nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – before making changes to voting laws or procedures.
Civil rights leaders and activists have expressed concern over whether the Supreme Court will actually uphold this anti-discrimination law.
"The question is not whether Section 5 of the voting rights act will be struck down, but when and how. Will it die a death of a thousand cuts? Or will it be killed with one swift blow?" Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia University law professor, told the Guardian.
"There has been a proliferation of cases that aim to take down and rip out this core provision of the Voting Rights Act," said Debo Adegbile, acting president and lead counsel of the NAACP legal defense fund. "I think it's fair to say that the supreme court invited these challenges."
Speaking to the DNC Thursday, Lewis continued:
Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.
Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just.