Local civil rights leaders, outraged by Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to invalidate key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, pledged to lobby Congress to restore the lost protections.
“Everybody inside this community ought to be fired up,” said Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “This will not be tolerated. We urge swift passage to get this restored.”
The court voted 5-4, finding that Congress had not provided adequate justification for submitting voting rules in nine states to federal oversight. But Foward and others at an NAACP press conference said those states had long histories of blatant discrimination and policies designed to stop blacks from voting.
At question is whether, as the court’s majority opinion stated, that the country, and the regions under federal oversight, had sufficiently changed. The opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., still allows Congress to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so using current information.
Tom Roberts, a former state senator and an official with both the Ohio and local NAACP chapters, said the country had not changed enough, and that Section 4 of the Act were still being used. He cited the attempt, in 2001, of the all-white board of aldermen of Kilmichael, Miss. to cancel an election to avoid allowing the election of blacks. Under the authority of the Act, federal officials intervened.
There were still voter suppression and redistricting cases that were pending under the act, and those cases will be voided without resolution due to the court’s decision, Roberts said.
Foward, Roberts and Xavier Johnson, young adult chair for the Dayton NAACP branch, said that the blatant actions of the past, whether requiring black voters, to pay a poll tax or guess the number of jelly beans in a jar, went away because of the act. Now, new restrictions that target black voters will be more likely, they said, citing the several southern states that introduced voter ID bills immediately after the court’s decision.
“The Voting Rights Act protected the real votes of real people,” Johnson said.
Foward specifically named U.S. Rep. Mike Turner as an elected official who voted to re-approve the Act in 2006 and “we call on him to do the same thing,” he said.
After learning of the press conference, Turner’s office released a statement from him that said only “As a lifetime member of the NAACP, I stand with their call for equal voting rights for all Americans.”