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It's not over: Obama vows to fight to restore Voting Rights Act

By George E. Curry
On July 8, 2013

  • Rep. Lewis, a victim of the Bloody Sunday of 1965 in Alabama, was livid saying the decision “stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act.”. crewof42.com

WASHINGTON - President Obama has pledged that his administration will do "everything in its power" to repair the damage done by the United States Supreme Court last week when it struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision today," he said in a statement. "For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act - enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress - has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans."
The president continued, "As a nation, we've made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today's decision is a setback, it doesn't represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process."
A sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the legality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but said it can't be enforced until Congress updates the way it determines which jurisdictions are covered under Section 5, the provision that requires preclearance by the Justice Department or a federal court before changes to local voting laws can be implemented.
The 5-4 decision by the conservative majority effectively guts the strongest section of the Voting Rights Act until Congress passes new legislation to meet the objections raised in the latest ruling, which grew out of a challenge filed by Shelby County, Ala.
Joining Roberts in the majority were conservatives Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Dissenting were the court's four liberals: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer along with Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Clarence Thomas, just as he had in the University of Texas affirmative action decision handed down a day earlier, expressed the most extreme position on the court, saying he was willing to nullify the entire Voting Rights Act.
"I join the Court's opinion in full but write separately to explain that I would find Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional as well. The Court's opinion sets forth the reasons," Thomas wrote.
Rep. John Lewis [D.-Ga.], who was savagely beaten on "Bloody Sunday" during the Selma to Montgomery March in Alabama in 1965, was livid after the ruling.
"Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years," he said. "These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights."
Lewis, one of the leaders of the Alabama march that led to passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, questioned whether Congress has the will to pass legislation needed to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court.
The Voting Rights Act expired after five years, but was extended by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and for another 25 years in 2006 with bipartisan support. The last time, it passed the House 390-3 and the Senate 98-0. President George W. Bush signed the last measure in a Rose Garden ceremony witnessed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The case heard by the court began with a challenge from Shelby County, near Birmingham, Ala. Shelby County sued Attorney General Eric Holder after the Justice Department rejected a redistricting plan that evidently played a role in the defeat of Ernest Montgomery, the lone Black member of the Calera, Ala. city council.
In her dissent, Ginsburg quoted everyone from Shakespeare to philosopher George Santayana.
"The Court criticizes Congress for failing to recognize that 'history did not end in 1965.' But the Court ignores that 'what's past is prologue," she said, quoting The Tempest. And 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'"


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