The National Organization for Women is appalled by today’s Supreme Court ruling that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. I have already been asked by grassroots NOW leaders if this decision promotes a political agenda that would revive the racial power relations in existence in the 1940s and 1950s. This question is particularly troubling because the Supreme Court is not supposed to advance or promote any political agenda. With this decision, it is more than appropriate to ask whether, once again (as with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) the court is further undermining its legitimacy as a neutral arbiter.
Racism and discrimination still exist in this country and in our voting laws — we’ve seen dramatic efforts in many states to limit voting access. Politicians have tried passing restrictive voter ID laws, cutting back early-voting hours, eliminating same-day voter registration, and aggressive purging of voter rolls in recent elections. These laws unquestionably target low-income and minority communities.
In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg called preclearance a “particularly effective” aspect of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, between 1982 and 2006, more than 1,000 discriminatory schemes were blocked by the Department of Justice under Section 5. Without Section 4, the preclearance mandated by Section 5 becomes ineffective. Essentially, without the formula in Section 4 there can be no preclearance.
The survival of the Voting Rights Act — which ensures that jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws cannot change their laws without preclearance — is now in the hands of Congress, making it all the more crucial for those who believe in the right of every citizen to vote to demand that Congress take action immediately and to replace, in 2014, those who block action with champions of voting rights. NOW’s activists and allies will continue to fight to protect the voting rights of all citizens.