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The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge Wednesday to a civil rights law that suggests there’s still a lot of racism in the South.The justices will review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forces states with histories of voter discrimination to get the feds’ permission before they change their election laws.
Shelby County, Ala. is challenging the law, saying the mandate forcing it to get federal “preclearance” for changes to its election procedures is too burdensome, according to SCOTUSBlog.
On the surface, the Voting Rights Act does look like an outdated law.
However, we still need the landmark legislation that Lyndon Johnson said took away the “last major shackle” holding blacks back in this country.
The VRA law was passed in 1965 to make sure minorities could actually get to the polls and cast their ballots.
Before 1965, many Southern states went out of their way to keep black people away from the polls. Voters had to pay poll taxes – which had a disproportionate impact on blacks, whose incomes were lower.
Southern states also forced voters to take “literacy tests,” which also effectively robbed many blacks of the right to vote.
In 2013, it’s hard to imagine any state using either of these tactics, which have become synonymous with racism and voter intimidation.
In recent years, though, states have used more subtle methods to suppress voters, Georgia Congressman John Lewis wrote in The New York Times back in 2011.
One such “poll tax by another name,” as Lewis called it, is voter ID legislation, which Republicans pushed for in a number of states during the last election.
These laws respond to the invisible specter of “voter fraud” by requiring voters to show unexpired, government photo ID before they step into a booth.
(One former McCain strategist has admitted that voter fraud is basically made-up.)
The U.S. government has relied on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge these laws because they unfairly impact minorities.
In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department also said “examples of intentional discrimination blocked by Section 5 are numerous.“
One notable case happened in 2001 when the DOJ used Section 5 to stop an all-white governing board in Kilmichael, Texas from cancelling an election after an unprecedented number of black candidates tried to run for local office.
The DOJ noted in its brief that after Kilmichael’s citizens voted, they elected the city’s first-ever black mayor and three of its first black city council members.
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