Debate Club

Section 5 Is Still Crucial to Maintaining Americans' Right to Vote

By + More

Alabama gave us the Voting Rights Act when it violently suppressed peaceful marches in 1965, dramatizing the need for a strong law guaranteeing every American an equal right to vote regardless of race. Now, less than 50 years later, an Alabama county is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the central provision of that law—Section 5. The court should decline the invitation.

The Voting Rights Act is widely acknowledged as the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in American history. It was passed to make real the promise of political equality in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Section 5 ensures state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination don't implement new laws or practices that deny Americans the equal right to vote. Unfortunately, it is still sorely needed.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Our nation has made great progress toward racial equality since 1965. But discrimination is still real and distressingly widespread in jurisdictions covered by Section 5.

Leading up to the 2012 election, states passed a wave of restrictive laws that, had they gone into effect, would have made it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. These laws—which ranged from voter ID requirements to registration cutbacks to curbs on early voting —would have fallen most harshly on minorities.

Section 5 was critical in turning back the tide and stopping real discrimination. It blocked a discriminatory photo ID requirement in Texas, which required a kind of ID more than 600,000 eligible voters did not have. It required Florida to restore some early voting hours used especially by minority voters. And it blocked Texas redistricting maps after a federal court found they intentionally discriminated against Latino voters.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Photo ID Be Required to Vote?]

But Section 5 did much more: It deterred states from passing discriminatory laws in the first place. In South Carolina, lawmakers rejected a highly-restrictive voter ID requirement because they knew it wouldn't pass muster. Instead, the state passed a law that was more flexible for the 216,000 registered citizens without driver's licenses or nondriver's IDs. A federal court approved the less restrictive version.

The last few years have seen some of the biggest fights over voting in decades. After an election marred by discriminatory voting laws and long lines in which minorities had to wait twice as long as whites, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is needed more than ever. Now is not the time to get rid of America's most time-honored voting rights protection.

Wendy Weiser

About Wendy Weiser Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law

Tags
civil rights
Supreme Court
voters

Other Arguments

#2
21 Pts
The Supreme Court Should Side with Congress on Voting Rights Act

No – The Supreme Court Should Side with Congress on Voting Rights Act

David Gans Director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at Constitutional Accountability Center

#3
15 Pts
Voting Rights Act's Section 5 Still Stopping Discrimination Today

No – Voting Rights Act's Section 5 Still Stopping Discrimination Today

Wade Henderson President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

#4
2 Pts
Voting Rights Act's 'Preclearance' Was Meant to be Temporary

Yes – Voting Rights Act's 'Preclearance' Was Meant to be Temporary

Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation

#6
-13 Pts
Striking Down Section 5 Would Mark a Return to Constitutional Order

Yes – Striking Down Section 5 Would Mark a Return to Constitutional Order

Edward Blum Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

You Might Also Like


See More