President Obama yesterday attempted to ease fears that the Supreme Court is poised to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act when it hears oral arguments next week in an Alabama case. Obama said while he hopes the justices leave the law intact, voters still will have other means to ensure they aren’t discriminated against.
“I know in the past some folks have worried that if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, they’re going to lose their right to vote. That’s not the case,” Obama said in an interview on SiriusXM with host Joe Madison. “People will still have the same rights not to be discriminated against when it comes to voting, you just won’t have this mechanism, this tool, that allows you to kind of stay ahead of certain practices.”
Obama said earlier today that while Section 5 had been historically important in enfranchising African-American voters, “it’s not the only tool we have.”
“It’s a critical tool, it’s not the only tool,” the president said.
Obama added that the Supreme Court challenge underscored the need for federal voting guidelines, which he asked for in both his inaugural and State of the Union addresses.
“If we have some national guidelines and rules, working with states, counties to make sure that people aren’t waiting in line for six, seven hours, that there aren’t new tricks that discourage people from voting — if we’ve got those in place, then it’s obviously not as good as if we keep Section 5 of the voting rights in place, which I think we should, but I think it’s still possible obviously for us to make sure that everybody’s able to exercise their rights,” Obama said.
“Section 5 is the great stop sign, the great protector,” Barbara Arnwine, the president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, told reporters Thursday. “There is no other tool in the Voting Rights Act that is the equivalent of Section 5.”
A piece in The Atlantic points out that there is still “an astonishing level” of racial discrimination in voting laws.
Quoting from the legal papers filed by the federal government in the Shelby County case, The Atlantic said that since 1982, “… approximately 2,400 discriminatory voting changes had been blocked by more than 750 Section 5 objections, approximately 400 of which involved cases with specific evidence of intentional discrimination.”
Without Section 5, the government argued in the court papers, minority voters would have had to sue individually, at great cost of time and money, in some cases after having lost their right to vote.