Chairman Franks, Ranking Member Nadler, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present our views on what must be the highest priority for this Congress and our nation - preserving our democratic process by restoring the protections of the Voting Rights Act. Vital protections that were stripped by the U.S. Supreme Court in its devastating 5-4 decision on June 25, 2013, in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. The National Urban League has one unequivocal message to both houses of Congress – suspend gridlock, come together as in the past, and fix the Voting Rights Act NOW!
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby is, quite frankly, ominous for our democracy, and yes, for African Americans who know all too well the high and often tragic price that was paid to secure their right to vote. It is beyond irony that as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington - at the height of the Civil Rights Movement – we still find ourselves fighting to ensure that every U. S. citizen can exercise this most fundamental right.
The Voting Rights Act was necessary in 1965 and remains so in 2013. If the voter suppression tactics employed by numerous states in the 2012 elections aren't evidence enough, consider that in the first four months of this year alone, restrictive voting bills have been introduced in more than half the states. In fact within two hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, the state of Texas declared it would now implement the voter ID law that had previously been ruled the most discriminatory law of its kind in the country. The State is also considering implementing a 2011 redistricting plan that was found to be discriminatory against the state’s minority voters.
According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is closely monitoring how states subject to the Section 4 formula are responding to the Shelby decision, a still growing list of states indicate they do intend to implement new discriminatory voting changes. The states include Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a direct blow to 50 years of progress towards voter equality and to the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King so passionately and purposefully shared with us in 1963. As Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who was brutally beaten during the Selma to Montgomery march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put it, “the Supreme Court put a dagger in the heart of the law.”
Some point to the reelection of President Obama and the record voter turnout as a reason to say "All's well" without acknowledging that these achievements have occurred because of the VRA, which is all the more reason to immediately restore its protections. Moreover, with 16 months to go until the 2014 midterm elections and with states--including Texas and others -- rushing to enact voter suppression measures, we cannot afford business as usual with our political system at continuous logger heads.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the coverage formula today is based on decades-old data and racist practices. Yet, Judge Roberts ignored thousands of pages of evidence presented over the course of 20 hearings that resulted in a bipartisan Congress overwhelmingly re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Justice Roberts also passed over new evidence in the 2012 election: the long lines at the polls, onerous voter ID requirements and registration procedures, and other measures clearly designed to make voting more difficult for certain communities that proved that discrimination and racism are still threats to democracy and efforts to protect the right to vote are still sorely needed.
The National Urban League is acutely aware of the importance of the voting franchise. In response to the unprecedented campaign in dozens of states to make it more difficult to vote through restrictive ID requirements, onerous registration procedures, cut-backs in poll hours, early voting and other measures, the Urban League launched its Occupy the Vote effort, which reached more than 150,000 citizens around the country.
The National Urban League will remain as diligent as ever in defending and protecting the rights that were so hard fought - and died - for during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's. We will mobilize our communities to push Congress to abandon party lines and partisanship and act immediately in the best interest of our nation and our democracy by enacting a new and responsible 21st Century formula for Section 4. We cannot focus on a celebration of progress until we ensure a continuation of the very equality and opportunity that are at the core of the country.
Established in 1910, the National Urban League is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights and direct services organization serving over 2 million people each year in urban communities in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
Statement for the Hearing Record
House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice
House Committee on the Judiciary
“The Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby County”
House Committee on the Judiciary