in a 5-4 decision, the united states supreme court on tuesday held section four of the voting rights act (vra) was unconstitutional. in one fell swoop, the court severed section four and the historical section five, which is widely regarded by progressive folk as the heart of the voting rights act.
section four provides the "coverage formula" for the "covered jurisdictions" under section five. the "covered jurisdictions" included certain states and other locales, among them in new york city, the bronx, kings and new york counties. section five required the "covered jurisdictions" to submit any change in voting procedures for preclearance to the department of justice, or alternatively, the federal district court in washington, dc.
the supreme court concluded the "coverage formula" in section four was inconsistent with current conditions and therefore, unconstitutional. the "coverage formula" was based on whether or not a jurisdiction had a voting test in the 1960's or 1970's, or had low voter registration or lower turnout. the court stated, "we issue no holding on section five itself, only on the coverage formula. congress may draft another formula based on current conditions." their decision renders section five moot.
esmeralda simmons, attorney and executive director of the center for law and social justice (clsj) at medgar evers college, said, "section five of the voting rights act has been the most powerful civil rights law ever enacted in the united states. right here in new york city, the center, for over two decades, has used section five of the voting rights act to prevent voting rights discrimination against black, latino and asian new yorkers."
simmons continued, "that was the beauty of the voting rights act: unlike most civil rights laws where you have to be discriminated against before you can file a claim, under section five, changes had to be "pre-cleared" by the federal government or a court before they could be put into practice. the center will fight to reinvigorate the voting rights act. we will join with others who believe that the protection of voting rights is critical to the defense of democracy in the usa."
the vra decision came as a result of a challenge to constitutionality of section four and section five - both filed by shelby county, alabama. ironically, alabama is the home of selma, the site of the "bloody sunday" beatings of civil rights demonstrators which served as the catalyst of the vra's enactment. between 1982 and 2005, alabama had one of the highest rates of successful cases under section two of the vra.
more recently, state legislators cooperating with fbi investigation captured conversations between members of the state legislature and their political allies discussing a gambling referendum derisively referring to black people as "aborigines" and expressing concern if the measure on the ballot "every black, every illiterate would be bused to the polls on hud financed buses."
the federal district judge presiding over the trial where the recordings were introduced said, "the recordings represent compelling evidence that political exclusion through racism remains a real and enduring problem in alabama."
the vra decision came a day after three other provocative civil rights decisions. in the most watched case - fisher v. university of texas - the court raised the standard institutions of higher education with affirmative action programs must meet to survive legal challenges. the court mandated colleges must show there was no "available workable race-neutral" alternative available to them. finding the university of texas had not shown this, the court returned the case to the lower courts.
the other two cases involved claims of employment discrimination under title vii of the civil rights act of 1964. the court's subsequent ruling now makes it harder for workers to prove they have suffered employment discrimination under the law.
in vance v. bell, a black woman accused her supervisor of racial harassment. the court held the person she accused was a co-worker and not a supervisor -a distinction requiring a higher burden of proof. the court rejected the definition of "supervisor" employed by the equal employment opportunity commission.
in the second case, university of texas southwestern medical center v. nassar, a physician of middle eastern descent alleged he retaliated after complaining of hostile treatment from a hospital supervisor because of his cultural and religious background. writing for the majority, justice kennedy noted retaliation cases should have a higher standard than regular discrimination cases and declared employees in such cases must prove retaliation was not just a motivating factor, but the determinative factor in negative employment actions such as a demotion,
joan gibbs, clsj general counsel, said, "the shelby, fisher, vance and nassar cases vividly demonstrate the reasons why black people must stay on freedom and justice, to defend the gains of the past while challenging current issues such as voter suppression, and stop and frisk."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.