GBM Responds To The Voting Rights Act Decision

~ Scott Douglas, Executive Director

Greater Birmingham Ministries is deeply troubled by the 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court striking Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).  Section 4 established the formula that determines which state and local governments must comply with the Section 5 Preclearance requirement of the VRA.  The Court’s ruling declares the formula (consideration of mandated tests, low minority voter turnout) unconstitutional, and it called on Congress to create a new formula for determining which jurisdictions require pre-clearance. Imagine that, the Court called upon a Congress that can’t even pass a Farm Bill to draw new maps to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Calling the Voting Rights Act, “one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our Nation’s history , Justice Ginsburg declared in her dissent, “for two prime reasons, Section 5 should continue in force, unabated. First, continuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and second, continuance would guard against back­sliding”.

The Supreme Court’s decision gutting the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act falls hard on many states, particularly Alabama, where our backsliding legislature’s new redistricting plan was expressly designed to limit the representation of the state’s African-American voters by gerrymandering districts to absurd extremes.  Moreover, the Alabama legislature passed a Voter ID law in 2011 that places extreme burdens on poor, rural and minority voters. Interestingly, the 2011 Voter ID law does not take effect until 2014-the year that the legislature and all state offices are up for election.

Our deepest concern is that if a state like Alabama had the gall to pass voter suppression and racially discriminatory voting laws under the active scrutiny of Section 5 of the VRA, what in the world will they attempt having been granted a free pass by the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court decision echoes the sensibilities of the 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention, proclaimed by the Convention’s President, John Knox, to come together and “establish white supremacy by law”. Those who thirst for justice in Alabama have suffered a setback, but remain faithfully convinced that still today, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. Our hopes are for both a revitalized Voting Rights Act and a twenty-first century state constitution for a twenty-first century Alabama. The values of an open and accessible democracy should not be subject to the capricious whims of transient legislative majorities fueled by fear and informed by willful ignorance.

While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court, we are not deterred. Our ongoing struggle is for a fully inclusive, fully participatory and fully just democracy in the communities, the state and the nation we love. This decision only deepens our resolve to work together to amplify the voices of Alabama’s families for an Alabama that truly values families and children, schools and communities, and the health and well being of all Alabamians.

The Supreme Court decision shows that now, more than ever, citizens must register to vote and exercise their right to vote in order to preserve the guarantees of the U.S.  Constitution.  By exercising our right to vote, we can ensure the election of representatives we believe in, and who believe in all of us, and a state constitution we can all be proud of.