A blow to voting rights

In a huge setback for civil rights, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a pillar of the Voting Rights Act that leaves African Americans, Latinos and other groups vulnerable.

This law was enacted in 1965 as an answer to a racist status quo, where discriminatory practices interfered with African Americans and others voting.

With a 5-4 vote, the Court’s conservative majority held that Section 4 of the law is unconstitutional. This section lays out a formula to determine which states are required to obtain preclearance from the federal government to change their elections laws. The need for preclearance stems from a long history of states blocking black and brown people from the polls. The states – Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and right here in New York were left off the hook and they include large or growing Latino communities.

Supporters of the Court’s decision have called Section 4 of the law antiquated, saying that racial dynamics have changed. Nothing can be farther from the truth. They ignore the political manipulation of redistricting that dilutes Latino voting power. They dismiss that leading up to the last election, some jurisdictions campaigned for measures that would make it more difficult for people – especially black and Latinos— to exercise their right to vote. . A case in point: Arizona introduced proof of citizenship as a requirement for voting. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional.

Yesterday, the Court said that, Congress should re-write a formula meant to ensure that minorities have access to the vote. So now, the future of the Voting Rights Act is in the hands of the House and Senate.

It will be extremely difficult for a divided Congress that lacks the ability to reach bipartisan deals or a consensus to reach an agreement on how to proceed. We are sure the Court imagined this. However, it is imperative that we demand that this same Congress implement amendments that restore protections for the most vulnerable minorities.

We join LatinoJustice (PRLDEF) in its call to the Obama administration and the Secretary of Justice to invest more resources in Voting Section of the Department of Justice to prevent conservative states and municipalities from enacting regressive election laws that restrict Latino voter participation.