The supreme court decision released on June 25 in the matter of Shelby County v. Holder, strikes down section four of the voting rights act and has the Bronx county buzzing. From politicians to constituents, there is a sense of deep disappointment and calls to action.
Section four of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required states known to suppress minority vote to seek permission, known as pre-clearance, from the federal government before voting laws could be enacted. The power of the state to craft election laws as it wished were restricted.
The section breaks the tradition of equal sovereignty, as its modern application applied to nine states and additional counties. The Bronx is a county that was mandated to federal supervision under the conditions of section four.
Prior to the voting rights act, states freely employed tactics that included a literacy test, gerrymandering, a poll tax, grandfather clauses , white primaries and voting exclusion of natives that lived on reservations.
These tactics were deliberately applied as a tool to disenfranchise blacks, poor whites, native americans, immigrants and people that did not speak English as a first language.
The supreme court now argues that blatant evasions of federal laws are rare, there is minority voter turnout in parity throughout the nation and there are unprecedented numbers of minorities in public office. Therefore, the formula of pre-clearance described in section four of the act is obsolete.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. raised concern about the implications of the court assuming discrimination against minority voters is absent in a statement released on the day the decision was handed down.
“I believe today’s decision is a hard blow to the peace of mind of thousands of voters in the Bronx, which is a county covered by the Voting Rights Act, and minorities across the United States, especially those who live in places with a strong history of electoral discrimination”, said Diaz Jr.
Diaz Jr. goes on to express an action call for the nation. “Certainly, we face continued challenges in the form of voter I.D. laws and other measures designed to disenfranchise minority voters and inhibit voter turnout, we therefore must remain ever vigilant in protecting the voting rights of all Americans”, said Diaz Jr.
In April of this year, the Associated Press reported that black voter turnout had surpassed that of whites.
Despite a report of higher minority voter turnout, Bronx residents Marc Rainey and Ebony Ballard feel strongly that the supreme court is out of touch with the realities of many.
“I believe discrimination is still an issue and will always be”, says Rainey.
Ballard agrees. “I think we should be worried because we no longer have protection. It sounds like they are trying to take us back to the 1950’s and 60’s”, says Ballard.
Bronx 29th district state senator Jose Serrano Jr. may have a solution that would help Bronxites like Rainey and Ballard feel more at ease. In his statement shortly after the ruling, the senator issued a challenge for Congress.
“My hope is that Congress will act quickly to correct this catastrophic error by the Supreme Court”, said Serrano Jr.
What Congress will do remains to be seen as the fallout settles from the case.