Honoring Voting Rights: 50 Years Later

August 9, 2015 / By Nadya Cheatham, NAACP Legal Fellow

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted by Congress in order to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.”   Section 4 of the Act contained the coverage formula used to determine the jurisdictions that are subjected to federal preclearance under section 5, and section 5 prohibited any jurisdiction from changing their voting procedures without first receiving a preclearance from the Government. 

The coverage formula was determined by examining which jurisdictions had a voting test during the 1960s and 1970s, or had low voter registration or turnout.   Congress reauthorized both the coverage formula and preclearance for an additional 25 years in 2006, but did not change the coverage formula itself.  In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because the formula is based on 40 year old data, and does not take into account any of the current needs of this country.  Therefore, the Court concluded that section 4(b) was too burdensome on sound constitutional principles.  From first glance, it appeared as if the essence of the Act would still flourish.  But strategically without having to strike down section 5, the Court invalidated its affect because without section 4 in place, Congress can no longer subject any jurisdiction to a federal clearance.  As feared, many jurisdictions across the country are finding new ways to discriminate against minorities by becoming extremely creative in the changes to voting procedures.  Coincidentally, these changes are reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.

Through America’s Journey for Justice, the NAACP will call on Congress for economic equality, education reform, Criminal Justice reform.  Above all, the NAACP is marching for the preservation of the Voting Rights Act, and the creation of a stronger section 4.  

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