Supreme Court deals blow to Black Caucus voting rights efforts
Less than 24 hours after the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) made a direct appeal for the fast-tracking of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Supreme Court delivered a potent blow to the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) as it upheld a pair of Arizona voting rights restrictions.
CBC chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) on Wednesday night had said that the caucus wanted to see the bill named after the late Georgia congressman and voting rights champion pushed to the House floor for a vote by July 16, the end of the chamber’s upcoming committee work week.
Following the court’s decision Thursday morning, Beatty reiterated that getting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed was one of the CBC’s “top priorities.”
“We still know that there’s [voter] discrimination, and that there’s disparity in treatment whether it is how we vote, when we vote, where we vote.”
Urgency from the Black Caucus and other Democratic lawmakers to bolster the VRA has steadily increased since the beginning of the year, when GOP-controlled state legislatures began introducing restrictive voting law proposals.
The bills have received widespread flak from Democrats and voting rights advocates, who have credited the thoroughly debunked claim from former President Trump that November’s presidential election was stolen from him through rampant voter fraud as the catalyst behind the wave of legislation.
Voter fraud, in reality, is exceedingly rare on all levels of American elections, a fact that didn’t change last Election Day.
Nonetheless, 17 states, including battlegrounds like Georgia and Florida, have enacted laws that restrict access to the ballot box in some way, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
However, the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision on Thursday is perhaps even more of a problem for the CBC and its allies.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the conservative majority, said in his decision that “neither Arizona’s out-of-precinct rule nor its ballot-collection law” violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2, which was strengthened by Congress in 1982, prohibits states or other jurisdictions from implementing voting laws that discriminate against Americans on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group. Before now, plaintiffs had to either prove discriminatory intent on the part of lawmakers or that the law’s impact is discriminatory.
The alleged disparate burden that Arizona’s laws put on protected marginalized groups is “unremarkable,” Alito concluded.
Associate Justice Elena Kagan in dissent seared the majority’s decision, writing: “What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), the Black Caucus’s second vice chair, echoed Kagan’s sentiment, labeling the ruling as “dangerous.”
“All across the country and in my home state of Michigan, we are seeing an all-out assault on the sacred right to vote,” Lawrence told The Hill in a statement. “It could not be more clear that we need to pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”
This is the second time in a decade that the Supreme Court has hobbled the crucial legislation.
Eight years ago in the landmark Shelby v. Holder decision, the court rendered the Voting Rights Act’s federal preclearance provision — which required states and jurisdictions with a noted history of racial voting discrimination to gain approval from the Justice Department before implementing new voting procedures — moot, ruling that the formula used in the preclearance was outdated and thus unconstitutional.
Chief Justice John Roberts said at the time that Congress had the purview to revise and update the formula, while also noting that Section 2 still guaranteed voting protections.
Nsé Ufot, CEO of voting rights group New Georgia Project, told The Hill that Thursday was a “sad day for jurisprudence,” explaining that the second section of the VRA was one of the last remaining tools for advocates waging legal battles against voter suppression.
Proponents and legal experts say that Section 2’s powers have likely been lessened by the ruling.
NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson described the decision as a “frontal attack on democracy.”
“The Court sent the clear message that vote suppressors around the country will go unchecked as they enact voting restrictions that disproportionately impact voters of color,” Johnson told The Hill in a statement.
Beatty said that the decision won’t hinder the Black Caucus’s push for Congress to restore the act via the legislation that bears John Lewis’s name.
“We’re prepared for this journey,” she said.
The bill’s path through the Democratic-controlled House is clear enough, but it’s unlikely that the bill will garner enough GOP support in the Senate to clear the filibuster.