If there was ever a day that signaled the voting rights of minorities were under renewed and serious attack, it was June 25, 2013, the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
The VRA sought to prohibit racial discrimination, rightly calling it an “insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.”
The majority argued that the needs of racial protection are quite different than they were 50 years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, we are seeing growing attempts to suppress the right to vote among minority communities.
Not only are the voting rights of Black Americans under continued attack, their very lives are at stake with the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement as just one horrific example.
Still need protection
The thousands and thousands of protestors that have taken to the streets of American cities would also likely beg to differ with that court decision.
And that is why Congress must pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would repair the damage done to the VRA through the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision.
In the past week, America has mourned the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a lion of the Civil Rights Movement, and congressman of Georgia’s 5th congressional district. Many words have been written and spoken by dignitaries about his courageous life.
But as history has taught us, words without action are often meaningless. Rep. Lewis knew this. In a scathing letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, written just eight days before his death, Lewis spoke of his “profound concern and disappointment” that the US Department of Justice had ignored the mission of protecting the voting rights of minorities.
Blocking felons’ rights
The seeming abandonment of protecting these rights can be seen in our own state of Florida as members of the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis have fought at every step to block the constitutional right to vote for 1.4 million ex-felons, a right that was restored by nearly 65% of the electorate with the 2018 passage of Amendment 4.
After the legislature passed Senate Bill 7066, the League of Women Voters of Florida and partnering allied organizations are now in the highest levels of the court system trying to undo the damage SB 7066 did – attach a modern day poll tax to these exfelons’ right to vote.
How is this any different from the poll taxes that were imposed upon people of color decades earlier?
Restoring voting rights
If we truly want to honor the life of the civil rights leader, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Congress must turn its attention to hearing – and passing – the Voting Rights Advancement Act.
It would be a large step in the right direction of what people of color are crying out for in America – to be treated with dignity and rightfully viewed as equal and deserving of the same rights as White American citizens.
As Lewis wrote in his letter: “The record is clear. A rampant war is being waged against minorities’ voting rights…across the nation…Time is of the essence to preserve the integrity and promise of our democracy.”
Patricia Brigham is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.