Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Historians Reflect on the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act Decision

As many of you now know, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  As David Austin Walsh notes at History News Network:

The Voting Rights Act was formulated to target areas with a history of poll tests and historically low registration and turnout for federal oversight. Jurisdictions that fall under the Act's authority are required to pre-clear changes in local election laws with the federal government,

Section 4 determined the mechanism of determining the target areas; Section 5 of the Act, which provides for the actual pre-clearance requirement itself, was not ruled upon by the Court.

In his majority opinion Chief Justice John Roberts wrote“today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

Currently, nine states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia -- are subject to federal oversight; individual counties and/or municipalities in California, Florida, Maryland, New York, and North Carolina are also covered by the Act.

Historians have weighed in:

Eric Foner of Columbia University thinks the decision gives a 'green light to states with a long history of slavery and racism" to disenfranchise voters."

Clayborne Carson of Stanford opposes the Court decision, especially since Congress, in 2006, voted to renew the act for 25 more years.

H.W. Brands of the University of Texas supports Chief Justice John Roberts's majority decision.

Read the article here.