We’re waiting to learn the fate of the Voting Rights Act. Here is an excellent propublica rundown of the history of the Act and an explanation of how the law works:
Section 5 requires nine mostly Southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Virginia, Texas and Arizona — and areas of seven others to preclear any change to a voting law or procedure with the federal government.
This review is conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If a voting change hasn’t been submitted for review, the change can be legally unenforceable.
Section 5, which was enacted by the original Voting Rights Act, was meant to address the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans by state lawmakers in the South since the end of Reconstruction.
Under the provision, covered jurisdictions must prove that any proposed voting change doesn’t have a discriminatory purpose or effect or would diminish minorities’ ability to elect a favored candidate.
Do we rely on the Voting Rights Act all that much? Yeah. We do:
In the last year alone, the Justice Department and federal judges have blocked more than more than a dozen electoral changes in covered jurisdictions. The “Section 5 Objection” page on the Justice Department website has detailed information on these cases.
Are states delaying more restrictive voting schemes, waiting for Section 5 to fall so they may avoid review?
In March, Virginia passed a strict photo voter ID law that won’t go into effect until 2014. It’s the second voter ID law they’ve passed in as many years — the first one enacted last year only after a review by the federal government made sure that it would not disenfranchise voters of color, even by mistake. The U.S. Department of Justice reviewed and cleared it just in time for the November elections last year. The much stricter version of Virginia’s voter ID law passed this year may not enjoy the same federal scrutiny given its 2014 start date. Reason being, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Section 5 is invalid — and a ruling is expected within weeks — then the voter ID law would go into effect regardless of its impact on people. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice, “If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications,” shows that many states have voter ID and other election laws on ice, and could quickly thaw them out for implementation immediately upon a SCOTUS ruling killing Section 5. It is not a foregone conclusion that SCOTUS will do this, but Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have all indicated that they want to strike it.
“There are experts in the field and on the ground who are very concerned that certain [election law] changes that are anticipated are being stalled in moving forward for section five preclearance and the concern is that it is being done with the hopes of section five not being a barrier in the future,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program and co-author of the report, in a call with Colorlines this morning.
In other news, today is Juneteenth:
Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced to the assembled crowd at Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
It was June 19, 1865.
Never mind that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been written and read more than two years earlier. Juneteenth, named for the June 19 declaration, started as a celebration of emancipation day in Texas and eventually spread to other states. With celebrations dating back to 1866, Juneteenth now commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.