FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, please contact:
Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727 E-mail
Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail
Last week, the Supreme Court overruled Congress and struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, putting voters’ rights in nine states and several more jurisdictions in potential jeopardy and removing legislation that has prevented racial discrimination in voting laws since 1965. Secular Woman holds that all women are entitled to full and equal participation at all levels of government, and we are concerned that this ruling opens the door to discriminatory activity such as district redrawing and voting legislation subtly aimed at undermining the voting rights of minority groups.
“Voting is a right of citizens in the United States,” said Secular Woman President Kim Rippere. “It isn’t simply a matter of having the legal right; voting must also be equally accessible between polling places, and each vote must count the same.” Established in 1965 in response to violence against voting rights activists fighting to prevent discriminatory voting laws and practices, the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race. Sections 4 and 5 require six states with a history of discriminatory voting procedures––Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia––as well as Alaska, Arizona, Texas, and several jurisdictions––to obtain advance approval before passing voting laws to determine whether they have the potential for discrimination or disenfranchisement. The Supreme Court held that section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional because it violates equal sovereignty of states and because, in the eyes of the Court, the improvement in equality in the states affected by the VRA means that section 4 is no longer warranted.
The Court cited vast improvements in voting equality since the 1960s, acknowledging that the number of black voters has increased significantly and that there has been a one thousand percent increase in the number of elected officials of color since the VRA was enacted. However, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent to the 5–4 ruling, the fact that the VRA has worked is hardly a reason to abandon one of its key provisions. “If the statute was working, there would be less evidence of discrimination, so opponents might argue that Congress should not be allowed to renew the statute,” she pointed out. “In contrast, if the statute was not working, there would be plenty of evidence of discrimination, but scant reason to renew a failed regulatory regime.” She went on to note that racial discrimination in voting can be much more insidious and subtle than the acts of violence of the 1960s, citing as an example the redrawing of districts to ensure white majority. Indeed, in 2012, it was the Voting Rights act that prevented Texas Senator Wendy Davis from losing her seat when Republicans attempted to redraw her Fort Worth district to dilute the Democratic voters that helped elect her. Now that section 4 of the VRA, which had the singular advantage of requiring oversight to prevent discriminatory voting laws before they were instated, has been struck down, unfair legislation and unfairly elected leaders could be in place for years before a case can be brought against the laws that helped elect them.
In a clear example of the dangers of this ruling, Texas legislators have already said they plan to instate a voter ID law that was struck down last year because federal judges ruled it would be discriminatory. The legislation requires prospective voters to present certain types of photo ID; a federal court ruled that the law would be “ the most stringent in the country,” and “will almost certainly have retrogressive effect: it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” Responding to the Supreme Court decision removing VRA section 4 last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the voter ID law would “take effect immediately,” adding that “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
Fortunately, the Court’s decision included a suggestion that “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions” in the United States. Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison have introduced an amendment that would reverse the Court decision and make voter suppression laws illegal; learn more and consider signing as a citizen co-sponsor. Secular Woman hopes that Congress finds a solution to the disturbing ramifications of the Court’s ruling; we are adamant that any discrimination by government, in voting rights or otherwise, is too much.
Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.