The right to vote
The Voting Rights Act was necessitated by years of post-civil war disenfranchisement of black citizens’ rights. In the southern states, would be black voters risked a brutal form of death for having the audacity of trying to exercise their rights as citizens.
In 1965 as a part of his Great Society initiative, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation ensuring that blacks could finally vote in states that historically had harassed and abused them for attempting to do so.
Last month, the United States Supreme Court heard a challenge to Section 5 of the act issued by officials of Shelby County, Alabama. Section 5 mandates that states, counties and townships which had historically engaged in racial discrimination must get approval from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws.
The status of the law seems to be seriously in peril. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia are both on record as being hostile towards the law.
During hearings last month, Scalia shocked many observers when he said that Section 5 amounted to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” And it’s well known that Roberts has sought to dismantle the law and other civil rights initiatives since he was a young lawyer with the Reagan administration’s Justice Department in the 1980s.
Although there are more black voters and less discrimination than 50 years ago, the recent election is proof that efforts continue to disenfranchise certain voters even in the 21st century. Prior to the 2012 presidential election, a number of states throughout the country tried to enact restrictive new voter identification and registration laws that would have adversely affected primarily African American and Latino voters. Most of the efforts, led by Republicans, were unsuccessful often because they violated aspects of the Voting Rights Act. Dismantling the law could leave voters of color in 16 states with less protection.
The efforts to block access to the voting booth over the past few years further illustrates the need for African Americans to exercise the right to vote while they still have it relatively unimpeded. Presidents appoint justices to the Supreme Court and the re-election of Barack Obama provides the opportunity for judges on the court who are more sympathetic to the history and struggles of minorities.
There’s a reason conservatives are fighting so hard to repeal the law. Perhaps Roberts and Scalia realize better than most how much power there is in the ballot.