The following statement was issued on July 19th in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder. In that decision, the Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965, is unconstitutional. John Schwartz of the New York Times, in explaining the decision, writes, “The decision in Shelby County v. Holder revolves around Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which establishes a ‘coverage formula’ to determine which states and local governments fall under Section 5, and therefore need to get approval before changing their voting laws. The justices ruled that Section 4 is unconstitutional, and that the formula used for decades — revised and extended several times by Congress — can no longer be used to establish those ‘preclearance’ requirements: ‘The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.'”
Schwartz goes on to write, “Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who has previously expressed skepticism about the continued need for parts of the Voting Rights Act, delivered the majority opinion. … Chief Justice Roberts opens his opinion by stating that ‘the Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem,’ using the ‘strong medicine’ of applying heavy requirements on some states and not others to fight suppression of voting rights. He then suggests that those rules have outlived their usefulness.”
On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act by a 5-4 decision. Due to the Court’s decision, unless Congressional action is taken, the 1965 Voting Rights Act has no effective means of enforcement.
Pax Christi USA finds this decision deeply saddening and very troubling. People of faith and goodwill must call upon Congress to remedy this wrong.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning legislative achievements of an ongoing struggle for freedom and justice in this country. Reaffirming and enforcing the 1965 Voting Rights Act is a critical way that the nation should celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech. Such re-affirmation and enforcement would honor those who suffered ridicule, intimidation, incarceration, and acts of violence in the struggle for American freedom. Too many have already given their lives for this right. Voting rights have been earned time and time again through the sacrifice of ordinary citizens.
This movement endured for many years due to repeated attempts to prevent and discourage voter participation through poll taxes, history tests, and intimidation tactics. As Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan wrote in their dissenting opinion, Congress reaffirmed the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and 2007 with overwhelming bi-partisan support.
The Voting Rights Act was successfully utilized in 2012 to block partisan voting laws designed to suppress minority voting in states covered under the provision (Texas, Florida, and South Carolina) and not covered (Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania). The Court’s decision paves the way for an onslaught of voter restrictions designed to restrict participation of poor, rural, and disabled voters, as well as voters of color, while having little effect on voter fraud. Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina are already working to enact new ballot restrictions. These laws have been passed at a time when our country is examining a potential pathway to citizenship for some 11 million immigrants, and statistics are showing an increase in voter participation from communities of color. Voting restrictions also violate Catholic Social Teaching regarding freedom of civic participation and responsibility.
Voting is one of the most fundamental ways that we, as citizens, can express our opinions about issues that impact our lives and our pocketbooks. This civil and human right is imperative for a free and democratic society. As society changes and grows, so do the voices of that society. All members of a democratic society must be allowed to have our voices heard and our views expressed in order for ours to be a truly functioning society.
Pax Christi USA calls upon Congress and all people of faith and goodwill to honor the historic struggle for civil rights and re-affirm universal voting rights with an effective enforcement provision.
For additional comment on this statement, contact Johnny Zokovitch, Pax Christi USA Director of Communications, at 352-219-8419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.