Obama calms fears over Supreme Court action on voting rights

President Obama said people won’t lose the right to vote if the Supreme Court strikes down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Speaking Thursday to “The Black Eagle” radio show on SiriusXM, Obama said listeners shouldn’t worry too much that discrimination against minority voters will increase. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act next week.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I know in the past some folks have worried that if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, they're going to lose their right to vote. That’s not the case,” Obama said on the radio show.

“People will still have the same rights not to be discriminated against when it comes to voting, you just won't have this mechanism, this tool, that allows you to kind of stay ahead of certain practices,” Obama said.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires municipalities with a history of disenfranchisement efforts to pre-clear changes to voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court. The provision was designed to prevent states from instituting poll taxes, literary tests, or other efforts to keep minority voters from the polls that might later be ruled unconstitutional from doing so before an election.

Shelby County v. Holder is the case before the Supreme Court next week. It’s the latest challenge to Section 5 — and one that Supreme Court watchers believe could lead to the provision being struck down.

In 2009, swing justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy ruled in favor of allowing a Texas jurisdiction to apply for an exemption to Section 5, and the majority decision hinted that a wholesale challenge could be successful.

On Friday, Obama said that that while Section 5 had been historically important in enfranchising African-American voters, “it's not the only tool we have.”

“It's a critical tool, it's not the only tool,” Obama said.

The president added that the Supreme Court challenge of the Voting Rights Act underscored the need for federal voting guidelines, a call he made in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses following an election where people in many states stood in line for hours to vote.

“If we have some national guidelines and rules, working with states, counties to make sure that people aren't waiting in line for six, seven hours, that there aren't new tricks that discourage people from voting — if we've got those in place, then it's obviously not as good as if we keep Section 5 of the voting rights in place, which I think we should, but I think it's still possible obviously for us to make sure that everybody's able to exercise their rights," Obama said.

Obama made the comments during the third and final interview with black radio stations.

Many of the interviews focused on the automatic spending cuts set for March 1, and Obama used them to mobilize supporters to pressure Congress to prevent the cuts.

In an earlier interview with the "Yolanda Adams Morning Show," Obama asked listeners “to put a little bit of pressure on Congress to get their act together.”

“Unfortunately I think sometimes people here in Washington lose sight of what our priorities should be. We need to have serious deficit reduction, but we shouldn't do it in a way that reduces jobs — that's what Congress is looking at now,” Obama said.

The president, warmly received in the interviews, also fielded some non-political questions — including a query from “Black Eagle” host Joe Madison on what the score of his weekend golf game with Tiger Woods was.

“It is fair to say his score was better than mine,” Obama said. “Fortunately as president of the United States, I have the option of choosing the teams, and he was on my team.”