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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Obama Should Lead Fight To Revive Voting Rights Act

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

By Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

NNPA Columnist

President Barack Obama should lead a forceful drive to revive the Voting  Rights Act, which was effectively disemboweled by the Supreme Court’s recent  decision. All celebrate the 1965 Act as the most consequential civil rights  legislation of the past century. Its passage was central to the building of the  New South, opening the way to attracting foreign investment in auto factories,  creating CNN, hosting the Super Bowl, even electing presidents. One afflicted  with a poisoned heart is often blind to its effects. The South learned only  after the civil rights legislation that segregation was blighting its own  potential.

In 2006, the Congress, after weeks of hearings and thousands of pages of  testimony and evidence, overwhelmingly reauthorized the law by a vote of 98-0 in  the Senate and 390-33 in the House. Legislators chose to sustain Section 4 that  identified which counties and states had a history of discrimination sufficient  that changes in voting rights would be subject to prior approval by the Justice  Department or a federal court under Section 5. Preclearance not only blocked  laws with discriminatory effect, but it also inhibited efforts to suppress the  right to vote.

But Justice John Roberts, writing for the court in a 5-4 decision, argued  that “our country has changed.” He and the activist reactionaries on the court  substituted their judgment for that of elected officials and struck down Section  4. Yet, the decision came after an election in which Republicans, particularly  in Section 4 states, had pushed harsh restrictions on voting that would make it  harder for minorities to vote. When the Miami Heat played the San Antonio Spurs  in the NBA finals, the games were rough, but proactive referees kept them from  becoming brawls. Justice Roberts’ decision, in essence, would pull the referees  off the court.

With Republican office holders increasingly worried by the growing numbers of  African-American, Latino, Asian-American and other minority voters, measures to  curtail voting rights have spread. It is perverse that the chief justice thought  this was the time to overrule the congressional judgment.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) defended the court’s decision, saying that his  state had witnessed “tremendous progress” in voting rights. Progress, no doubt,  but in 2012 South Carolina passed a discriminatory voting act that was struck  down by the courts. David Gergen said he was from North Carolina and “times have  changed.” Change, yes, but in 2012, North Carolina pushed an aggressive agenda  to curtail voting rights, including restrictive voting ID, elimination of early  voting on Sunday, a ban on same day voter registration and more. Similar reforms  in Texas, blocked by a Section 5 preclearance review, were immediately taken up  again when the court’s decision came down.

We need to keep the referees on the court. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair  of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already pledged hearings to begin  reformulating Section 4. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)  said that he hoped the House would find a “responsible way forward.” The  president should elevate this issue so that Americans can see who stands for  voting rights, and who stands in the way.

Over the past years, the new South has made progress, but that is in large  part because the Voting Rights Act put referees on the field to enforce the law.  Will Republicans join Democrats in reviving bipartisan support for remedying the  Supreme Court’s wrong-headed decision? Or will they use the court’s decision to  intensify their efforts to suppress the vote? By pushing hard for action, the  president can help re-create the bipartisan support that is vital for our  progress as one nation.

 Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based  Rainbow PUSH Coalition.


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