Waiting to Hear From the Supremes
In late May or early June, the Supreme Court will render a decision in a case brought by Shelby County, Ala., which challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This section impacts certain jurisdictions that have a history of disenfranchisement based on race. Before making any changes to voting practices or procedures, these areas must secure advance approval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Jurisdictions that can show a 10-year pattern of full compliance with Section 5, or the absence of lawsuits or tests that are related to attempts to limit voter participation, are able to "bail out"-be removed from meeting Section 5 requirements. Section 5 has been reauthorized by bipartisan congressional votes four times, and was last signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2006. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder Feb. 27, 2013.
Now, We Wait to Hear the Decision
A report released May 8 by the U.S. Census Bureau found that more than 66 percent of eligible blacks voted in the 2012 presidential contest, while 64.1 percent of eligible whites turned out to vote. This marked the first time in U.S. history that black voters turned out at a rate higher than that of whites. Much of the increase reflects a trend of ever-greater participation among blacks, as many were denied the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and, since then, have been the target of intensive voter registration drives and efforts to improve voter turnout.
The new electoral reality is profoundly significant for the impending Supreme Court decision, because the 2012 increase in the African-American turnout was especially pronounced in the southeastern region of the United States, where Alabama is located. The election of President Barack Obama has led many to believe that the race ceiling has been broken. As the new census data show, much of the country's burgeoning population of racial and ethnic minorities has reshaped the electorate.
Turnout of voting-age blacks increased from 53 percent in 1996, the earliest year for which the U.S. Census Bureau has comparable data, to 66.2 percent in the most recent election. In all, almost 18 million blacks voted last fall, the agency estimates, up about 1.7 million from 2008. "Over the last five presidential elections, the share of voters who were racial or ethnic minorities rose from just over one in six in 1996 to more than one in four in 2012, " said Thom File, the report's author.
The Voter Empowerment Act of 2013, introduced in both the Senate and the House, seeks to "modernize voter registration, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities and protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office" and would amend the federal criminal code to "prohibit hindering, interfering with, or preventing voter registration." https://www.myelectedrep.com/bill/112/HR5799
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been called the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress, as the law had an immediate impact. By the end of 1965, a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered, one-third of them by federal examiners.
- Host a vigil to call attention to the continued need for Section 5. Since 2010, eight of the 11 states in the southern United States have enacted laws creating barriers that make it more difficult for African-American and other ethnic groups to exercise their right to vote.
- Share information about issues and updates related to voting rights legislation, as well as the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Look out for updates from United Methodist Women on your social media networks and help spread the facts.
- Call your congressional representatives to urge their support for S. 123: Voter Empowerment Act of 2013. Reach the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or contact the district office.
- Resolution 164, "The Political Community" (pages 617-693), in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (2012).