Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was a key civil rights leader during the 1960s alongside Martin Luther King, spoke out today about the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder.
Shelby, explained in more detail below, gutted a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, leaving it to Congress to “fix” it.
As if the Republicans in the House, or even those in Senate, would lift a finger to help blacks and other minorities ensure their voting rights.
“What the Supreme Court did today is stab the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart.” – Cong. Lewis, today.
Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog explains:
Four years ago, in a case called Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (NAMUDNO) v. Holder, the Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. As I explained in an earlier post, that portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring a list of state and local governments identified by Congress in the 1960s as having a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures – both major changes and even for something as seemingly innocuous as moving a polling place across the street. In that case, the Court ultimately dodged the constitutional question, handing the utility district a victory on another ground. But at the same time, the Court fired off a cautionary shot to Congress, admonishing it that “[t]hings have changed in the South,” where most of the state and local governments that have to comply with the preclearance requirements are located, and that the burdens imposed by the preclearance requirements “must be justified by current needs.”
Today’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, a new challenge to the preclearance requirements, boils down to a new message to Congress: we warned you, you didn’t listen, and now it’s your problem to fix. The Court did not invalidate the actual preclearance provision of the statute. But it did something just as significant: it struck down Section 4 of the Act, which contains the formula that is used to identify the state and local governments that have to comply with the preclearance requirements. The upshot is that although the preclearance requirement survives, none of those jurisdictions have to comply with it unless and until Congress can enact a new formula to determine whom it covers – a prospect that, given the current state of gridlock in Congress, might not happen for a while or even forever.