Leaders rail against Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision

Published 8:35 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Alabama, views of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, which declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional  were split, leaving some representatives praising the courts and others, particularly those who represent Selma and understand the injustices suffered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, were not only disappointed with the ruling, but considered it a “slap in the face.”

Split along ideological and partisan lines, the justices voted 5-4 to strip the government of its most potent tool to stop voting bias — the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of the 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a majority of conservative, Republican-appointed justices, said the law’s provision that determines which states are covered is unconstitutional because it relies on 40-year-old data and does not account for racial progress and other changes in U.S. society.

“The people of Alabama — and the people of Selma — know what it took to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and they will know what it takes to protect the right to vote today,” State Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma said of the ruling. “The decision by the Supreme Court is a slap in the face to all those who marched and bled to ensure our fundamental right to vote.”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell agreed, saying the ruling is a “major setback for voting rights in this country.”

“As a native of Selma, I know that the injustices suffered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965 have not been fully vindicated. Unfortunately, the state of Alabama and this nation still has much work to do,” Sewell said. “It is terribly ironic that the state responsible for the enactment of the Voting Rights Act is now being used by the Supreme Court to dismantle the core of that Act.  We cannot rejoice in the failure of our nation’s highest court to uphold voter protections that were so hard fought.”

State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma said the Supreme Court’s decision was the most destructive decision in the last 60 years and is one that will have far-reaching implications.

“Instead of helping us to go forward from where we are,” Sanders said, “it helps us to go back.”

Attorney General Luther Strange however, praised the Supreme Court for their decision to declare Section IV of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, calling it, “an important victory for the fundamental constitutional principle.”

“The important protections of Section 2 of the Voting Rights (Act) remain in place, preserving for all citizens the right to challenge discriminatory laws in court. At the same time, I am proud that the nation’s highest court recognizes the important progress made over the last fifty years, and I commend the court for its decision,” Strange said, noting that because Alabama is no longer subject to preclearance requirements, he expects a significant savings for Alabama tax payers.

“Alabama will only be subject to the preclearance process if Congress adopts a new coverage formula that includes Alabama,” Strange stated. “But let me be clear, I do not believe Alabama should be included under any new coverage formula that Congress might adopt. As the Court rightly points out, minority participation in voting is in fact higher in Alabama and many other covered jurisdictions than it is in many non-covered jurisdictions.”

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said that, while the requirement provided in Section 4 was necessary in the 1960s, today it is no longer needed.

“We have long lived up to what happened then, and we have made sure it’s not going to happen again,” Bentley said. “Today’s ruling is historic. It reflects how conditions have improved since 1965. This ruling returns us to the principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty.”

President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive, issued a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” with the ruling and is calling on Congress to update the law.


— The Associated Press contributed to this report