Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NC NAACP Statement on the Terribly Troubling U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965


26 June 2013

Contact:         Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President, 919-394-8137

          Mrs. Amina J. Turner, Executive Director, 919-682-4700

          Atty. Jamie Phillips Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919-682-4700

Yesterday, five U.S. Supreme Court Justices ruled against all voters of color and our ancestors who, not so long ago, were terrorized, tricked, beaten and killed for even talking about exercising their 15th Amendment Rights.  Ignoring the historical and present day facts carefully assembled by the four dissenting Justices, the five ultra-extremist Tea Party backed Justices decided to place our Voting Rights Act, and its Constitutional parent, the 15th Amendment, in the back of the bus--in legislative limbo.  They are betting their Tea Party friends in Congress can maintain the limbo long enough for them to consolidate their strategy in Congress. 

Make no mistake. This is a direct attack on the power of the changing electorate and the power of the African American and minority voters in the South. This is a direct attempt to hold on to the solid South and break the back of the growing 21st century Fusion Politics Movement, a movement that is reshaping electoral politics in the present and for the future.  State Senator Tom Apodaca described the Voting Rights Act as a "headache."  His statement was irresponsible and insensitive to the history of inequality of voting rights in North Carolina and in the South.

Gutting Section 4 effectively ends Section 5 of the VRA.  This is wrong.  It is tantamount to them saying the patient may be sick, may have cancer and we are going to take the x-ray machine to find it and the medicine to treat it.  Just as the Supreme Court decision of 1896 "separate but equal" undermined the protections of the 14th Amendment.  Tearing apart Section 4 of the VRA in a similar way seeks to destroy the protections of Section 5.  Structural discrimination is still a sickness in this country. Saying that the high turnout of African Americans is proof that the VRA is not needed is to miss the point that the turnout is high because of the protections of VRA - without which the avalanche of voter suppression tactics would have no way to be challenged.  Five Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong.

In essence, the decision said discrimination is still real and must still be challenged but rather than address the issue on the front end as pre-clearance allows, let's let it happen - lets allow elections to go forward - knowing discrimination exist and then after people have been elected after they have use the power they have received through discriminatory methods then you can bring a case and take years to try and undo what could have been prevented on the front end.

Today, on the anniversary of the death of James Weldon Johnson, a leader in the NAACP and author of the National Negro Hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing," we, in the family of justice, must insure that we live by the creed that he described when he wrote,

"God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears, 

thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

thou who has by thy might, 

led us into the light,

keep us forever in the path, we pray 

lest our feet stray


the places, our God, where we met thee,

least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee, 

shadowed beneath the hand,

may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land."

We cannot forget the battles we have fought and we must forever stand on the principles of justice. Yesterday the United States Supreme Court declared - in a partial ruling and split decision - that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, but not section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), is unconstitutional.  This bad ruling of the five ultra conservative Justices on the Supreme Court attacks the very heart of our democracy. It will provoke challenges and political fights in the days to come, placing the VRA's covered districts in limbo. Yesterday's decision demands that we who believe in justice must continue to be vigilant in order to protect and expand our most sacred right: voting.

It is reported that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on behalf of the Court's liberal bloc, all of them Democratic appointees. Ginsburg argued that continued discrimination, which Roberts himself noted in the majority opinion, demands continued federal oversight.  In her dissent, she noted that the courts had engaged in "hubris" which by the way is the same thing theologians use to describe to be the cause of original sin that threw the world into chaos of sin and oppression.  Furthermore she said,

"Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake­ proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination...

Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court's opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story. See supra, at 18-19. Without even identifying a standard of review, the Court dismissively brushes off arguments based on "data from the record," and declines to enter the "debate [about] what [the] record shows"...One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation's signal piece of civil-rights legislation...

Given a record replete with examples of denial or abridgment of a paramount federal right, the Court should have left the matter where it belongs: in Congress' bailiwick."

Senator Patrick Leahy noted,

"Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices.  I could not disagree more with this result or the majority's rationale. 

The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable.  Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions.  Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress."

The Constitution is clear since 1870 and the 15th Amendment, 

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

During the reauthorization of the "Fannie Lou Hammer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act", that received unanimous approval by the U.S. Senate in 2006, the record noted,

The continued evidence of racially polarized voting in each of the jurisdictions covered by the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 demonstrates that racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(4) Evidence of continued discrimination includes--

(A) the hundreds of objections interposed, requests for more information submitted followed by voting changes withdrawn from consideration by jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Section 5 enforcement actions undertaken by the Department of Justice in covered jurisdictions since 1982 that prevented election practices, such as annexation, at-large voting, and the use of multi-member districts, from being enacted to dilute minority voting strength;

(B) the number of requests for declaratory judgments denied by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia;

(C) the continued filing of Section 2 cases that originated in covered jurisdictions; and

(D) the litigation pursued by the Department of Justice since 1982 to enforce sections 4(e), 4(f)(4), and 203 of such Act to ensure that all language minority citizens have full access to the political process.

(5) The evidence clearly shows the continued need for Federal oversight in jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since 1982, as demonstrated in the counties certified by the Attorney General for Federal examiner and observer coverage and the tens of thousands of Federal observers that have been dispatched to observe elections in covered jurisdictions.

(7) Despite the progress made by minorities under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the evidence before Congress reveals that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th Amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.

(8) Present day discrimination experienced by racial and language minority voters is contained in evidence, including the objections interposed by the Department of Justice in covered jurisdictions; the Section 2 litigation filed to prevent dilutive techniques from adversely affecting minority voters; the enforcement actions filed to protect language minorities; and the tens of thousands of Federal observers dispatched to monitor polls in jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(9) The record compiled by Congress demonstrates that, without the continuation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protections, racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years.

Considering the incredible and extensive review by Congress when the VRA was reauthorized, the fact that it was determined explicitly that the entirety of the VRA was still needed in the areas of the country it covered, like the 40 covered counties in North Carolina, the Supreme Court should have left Section 4 intact and ruled that the entire VRA was still constitutional.

The only thing that has changed is the election of a black man as president, but America has not become post racial. Clearly the avalanche of attacks we are seeing leveled at voting rights and the intense attempts at voter suppression in state houses, like our extreme immoral General Assembly leadership here in North Carolina and around the country, remain a constant reminder of the constitutional and moral necessity the VRA. Not touching the cornerstone principle of the VRA Sections 2 and 5 was the right decision of the Court. Dropping Section 4 is more than troubling because it undermines the power and enforcement of Section 5 and should have been seen as a direct attack on protection of voting and civil rights, guaranteed to every citizen by the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Considering the incredible and extensive review by Congress when the VRA was reauthorize, the fact that it was determined explicitly that the entirety of the VRA was still needed in the areas of the country it covered, like the 40 covered counties in North Carolina, the Supreme Court should have left Section 4 intact and ruled that the entire VRA was still constitutional.

We - Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Men and Women - must mobilize our fight and our votes, even more so at the state level and say to our legislators "it is in your hands and we want our rights protected now with no delay."

This is a step back that summons all of us to step up.  This decision reveals the constant tactic by some to deny the continuing reality of structural racism and discrimination by getting rid of the tools that allow us to unearth it and expose it to the light of truth and justice. As we read this decision it seems like can here, with new clarity, a description and denouement rendered by the psalmist against judicial leadership of past. Psalm 82 Says:

"God calls the judges into his courtroom,

he puts all the judges in the dock.

"Enough! You've corrupted justice long enough,

you've let the wicked get away with murder.

You're here to defend the defenseless,

to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;

Your job is to stand up for the powerless,

and prosecute all those who exploit them."

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!

They haven't a clue to what's going on.

And now everything's falling apart,

the world's coming unglued.

"I commissioned you judges, each one of you,

deputies of the High God,

But you've betrayed your commission

and now you're stripped of your rank, busted."

O God, give them their just deserts!

You've got the whole world in your hands!"


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.


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