For example, Congress found that the city of Calera in Shelby County, discriminated when it gerrymandered the black district to reduce the population from 70 percent African American to 29 percent. Congress learned that once blacks won a majority of seats on the Charleston, S.C., school board in 2003, Charleston County proposed switching from a single-member district to at-large voting for the school board and failed to inform any of the black members of the board of the proposed change. In 2001 in Kilmichael, Miss., the all-white Town Council decided to simply cancel the town’s election once a number of blacks decided to run and data showed that the jurisdiction’s population had become majority black.
In each of these cases, Section 5 prevented the discriminatory plans from coming to fruition. Today that protection has been removed by a five-member majority on the court that substituted its judgment for the record painstakingly amassed by Congress. Ginsburg, in her dissenting opinion, rightly describes the majority’s decision as an act of “hubris.”
I cannot express how devastating this decision is for minority voters in cities, towns and counties all over this country. In essence, the voting protections of 48 years have been removed with a stroke of the court’s pen.
Just as an example of how emboldened Southern jurisdictions are likely to become, the attorney general of Texas said on Tuesday on Twitter that the state’s proposed voter-ID law, which has been called the most onerous in the nation and is currently in litigation under Section 5, will be enforced “immediately.” They’re already tweeting away our voting rights with cavalier disregard.
Congress must create a new coverage formula to ensure that minority voters are protected under Section 5 of the act. We know that Congress is divided. But it was divided in 1965 when it passed the Voting Rights Act, and in 1975, 1982 and 2006 when it reauthorized the act with bipartisan majorities. We will not accept “Washington deadlock” as an excuse for inaction.
But Congress will act only if voters all over this country of every race recognize that the very legitimacy of democratic participation in this country is at stake. It is up to Americans to march, to call, to press Congress to use the power it was granted under the 15th Amendment and restore protections for minority voters.
We’ll be in the courts using the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution to push back hard against efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. But to win, we will need to be in the courts as well as in the streets, on the airwaves and in the halls of Congress. Starting now.
Sherrilyn A. Ifill is the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. LDF represented black voters in Shelby County, Ala., in the case decided by the Supreme Court. Follow her on Twitter.