By Teresa Welsh |
Since being signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been used to protect Americans' right to vote and prohibit limitations and barriers—often racially-based—placed on poll places, particularly in the South. Nearly half a century later, a provision of the law, Section 5, may be struck down by the Supreme Court, which hears arguments on the case this week.
Section 5, known as the "preclearance" provision, mandates that nine states and parts of seven others seek approval from the Justice Department before changing voting laws or maps. A county from one of the states covered in the provision has now taken its objection to the Voting Rights Act all the way to the Supreme Court. The plaintiff, Shelby County, Ala., claims that "Section 5 exacts a heavy, unprecedented federalism cost" and it says that the 2006 legislative record, when the law was last extended, "shows scattered and limited interference with voting rights, a level plainly insufficient to sustain Section 5 preclearance."
Defenders of the law say that federal oversight is still needed on voting procedures. They point to the voter ID laws being considered and passed across the nation as the most recent example that certain Americans are still being disenfranchised. (Minorities, lower income earners, and young people, who often don't have the identification required by these laws, are being purposely burdened, some civil rights activists say.) Opponents of Section 5 say that the provision is out of date, no longer needed, and unfairly targets certain parts of the country.
Should the Supreme Court strike down the 'preclearance' provision of the Voting Rights Act? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Wendy Weiser Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
David Gans Director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at Constitutional Accountability Center
Wade Henderson President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
Ilya Shapiro Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute
Edward Blum Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute