Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reflections on the Voting Rights Act Today, and Moving Toward Equal Access for All

Funny, as I waited for the decision to come down from SCOTUS on the Shelby case, I very much expected to post here shortly thereafter. The reality is that learning of the decision that Tuesday morning left me very much at a loss for words. Even now, I am not writing because I have figured it all out, oh no, I am not even close to there yet. I am writing now simply because today, as promised by Congress, there was a hearing on the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and watching it allowed me to focus on it, and to see who is going to be responsible for fixing it, and hearing the powers that be, speak to the issue. And I am left wondering, can it be fixed? Yes, I believe it can be. But in our current state, by this Congress, will it be fixed?

As SCOTUS obliterated aka found to be unconstitutional, Section 4 of the VRA, on Tuesday morning, June 25th, almost a month ago, it was kind of like a backhanded slap upside the head. You're shocked, and surprised, it's not the worst thing ever, but it's offensive.

Section 4 is the enforcement of Section 5, and necessary for it to function as prescribed. However, Section 2, which is sometimes called the heart of the VRA, was not struck down, so technically, there is still voting rights enforcement that can occur, but on a much smaller and much more specific scale.

It was not a simple verdict, not at all. On one hand, SCOTUS almost legislated how the VRA could still exist - which many will say and have said, is not the job of SCOTUS at all - but yet also left the true fate of the VRA to Congress. This is where I think it gets really really complicated.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and as recently as 2006, the Congress overwhelmingly, with bipartisan support - even from the states covered by the VRA - voted to reauthorize it. It was a total no brainer, even in the midst of the second Bush Administration. Perhaps it is that very fact that is so sobering today as we move on from here. It isn't a no brainer anymore. As we move towards the extremes of partisanship, the fate of the right to vote is in the balance.

Today, in this grand move to hold the hearing on the future of Voting Rights Act, as a Congressional response to SCOTUS' challenge, only 2 TWO Republicans showed up. Just not a good sign on any level, and for me, and I think for anyone who cares about the right that every American should have fair and equal access to the vote, I am left with this hollow feeling in my stomach. To think that the most basic and important right that we as Americans have, that has historically been more of a challenge, to put it mildly, to exercise that right, is no longer a bipartisan, nay a nonpartisan issue, as it has been since the Voting Rights Act was passed amongst blood shed and the will of the American people, leaves me a bit perplexed.

So, where DO we go from here. I know where I want to go, where I want this country to go, and where all that treasure the right to vote want it to go - to ensure fair and equal access to the right to vote. It's that simple. And in the current state of this unprecedented partisanship, that hard.

I am truly thankful for the civil rights community that has come together as a coalition behind this most essential right that the movement aspired to and did, up until June 25th, rectify, although it had issues still. The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, The Advancement Project, the Brennan Center, all of the scholars, and all of the advocates, have all truly come together with such a force, that I truly do believe we will continue to fight and ultimately, we shall overcome. And justice will be served, and every American will have fair and equal access to the vote.

So much work to do... Game on.

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