Supreme Court decision invalidates voting rights formula

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RAPID RESPONSE—Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joins B-PEP and community activists in condemning the Supreme Court ruling that part of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. (Photos by J. L. Martello)

 

Following the Supreme Court’s June 25 Ruling that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, local African-Americans echoed national leaders from the NAACP, the Urban League, and others organizations to condemn the narrow 5-4 ruling, saying it destroyed more than 40 years of anti-voter discrimination work.

“This is a slap in the face to many, many people,” said NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker. “Now we have to fight as if we didn’t have the right to vote before.”

The court held that using Section 4’s nearly 50-year-old data on voter discrimination and abuses could not be used to penalize the covered jurisdictions today.

Section 4 contained the formula by which Section 5—requiring, originally, southern states and some other counties to obtain pre-clearance from the federal government before making any changes to voting laws—determined coverage.

The formula looked at whether states imposed unfair devices such a literacy tests in the most recent federal election (Nov. 1964), whether less than 50 percent of the voting age population was registered to vote as of that date, or if less than 50 percent of eligible voters voted in that election.

In 1975, the formula was expanded to nine states and parts of seven others, to include jurisdictions as varied as Alaska and New Hampshire that printed voting materials in English only yet had language minorities comprising 5 percent of the voting age population.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in the minority dissent said the ruling was akin to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Venerable Pittsburgh civil rights attorney Wendell Freeland called the ruling “an amazing display of arrogance by the court in directing the congress to amend the law.

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LEGALLY BOUND—Urban League member and Duquesne University Law Professor Tracey McCants Lewis says the Urban League is committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act.

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