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Supreme Court decides on Voting Rights Act

Published 9:22pm Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A U.S. Supreme Court decision announced Tuesday to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will allow the “new Jim Crow” era to take hold in the South, the president of Suffolk’s NAACP chapter said.

“I’m really very disappointed in the decision that was made,” said Costellar Ledbetter, president of the Suffolk-Nansemond Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “What happened in the ‘60s is still happening today. Years ago it was the poll tax and other things, but now we have more sophisticated tools to keep people from getting to the ballot box.”

The 5-4 decision from the nation’s high court declared Section 4b of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. The section determined which states or political subdivisions would have to obtain “preclearance” from the federal government before making any changes to laws pertaining to voting.

The covered states or subdivisions were those that had used a “test or device” to deny the right to vote in any election as of November 1964, and where less than 50 percent of the people of voting age were registered to vote in November 1964, or less than 50 percent voted in the presidential election of November 1964.

Virginia was one of those initially covered because of its legacy of racial discrimination in the voting process. Other states and subdivisions were added later based on other criteria.

But, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority opinion, “Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.”

He was joined in the winning side of the vote by Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. Those who voted against the finding were Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The court was considering a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala.

Ledbetter said she believes the decision will effectively turn the clock back to a time when black would-be voters had to pass academic tests or prove “good moral character” in order to vote.

“It’s heartbreaking because of all the bloodshed people did to make sure people would have the right to vote,” she said. “And then they turn around and do something like this.”

She said things like redistricting processes can have the effect of making black votes count less than white votes.

“It is going to hurt a lot of people,” she said. “The people they’re keeping disenfranchised are blacks and Hispanics. When you have a law that is working without a lot of restraints, then why would you change it?”

Ledbetter said she hoped people would contact their congressional leaders to urge Congress to come up with a new formula that can be used to determine which areas of the country are required to petition for preclearance before making voting changes.

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