HARTFORD — News of the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, striking down section five of the historic federal Voting Rights Act, met a mixture of shock and disappointment in the Greater Hartford community.
Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Monday issued the following statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision, which struck down section five of the federal Voting Rights Act that required some states and local jurisdictions to submit election law changes to a review by the federal Department of Justice.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is worse than wrong; it is an injustice to the millions of voters in this country that face potential disenfranchisement at the ballot box due to discriminatory election laws that are still passed in many states throughout this country even today,” she said.
According to some critics of the recent Supreme Court decision, the ruling interprets that Congress “went too far in seeking to prevent racial discrimination in voting when it reauthorized the historic act in 2006, with votes of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.”
Longtime Civil Rights activist Jimmie Griffith posted this message on his Facebook account:
“The US Supreme Court as much as set us back to the 150 year ago Emancipation Proclamation, when the shackles of slavery were unlocked…. When I woke up and thought of what US Supreme Court ruled on yesterday. I was feeling a little down and then the words of Martin Luther King Jr. popped into my head as he said: ‘I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.’ So don’t be discouraged and continue to fight for equal justice in America!”
Many civil rights advocate agreed that the ruling “dismantled a centerpiece of the civil rights movement that thousands of Americans fought to enact.”
They called the decision “an affront to the memories of those like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others who sacrificed everything to allow disenfranchised Americans the simple right to vote.”
Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), who visited the University of Connecticut earlier this year, was among the Civil Rights Movement activists who reacted to the news: “Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
And he might be right about that.
As Merrill and others explain, section five of the federal Voting Rights Act stood as “a critical check and balance against states and local jurisdictions that time after time passed laws in reality designed to exclude certain portions of the electorate – mostly poor, the elderly, young, and minority voters – from casting ballots.”
Recently, this federal review of local election law changes has successfully struck down misguided attempts to rig the electoral playing field in the name of preventing so-called “voter fraud” that there is barely any evidence to suggest is a real issue. This ruling suggests to me is that basic principles of nondiscrimination and universal voting rights are now under siege by those who really don’t want every eligible American to vote.
Merill said she was grateful that here in Connecticut we are moving in the opposite direction under the leadership of Governor Dannel P. Malloy – enacting Election Day voter registration, enabling voters to register online, and next year allowing voters to change our constitution to allow early voting.
“Instead of restricting our citizens’ right to vote, we are expanding access to the ballot box and we must stand united with our allies in other states who will fight to prevent discriminatory election laws where they are passed. Congress should act immediately to rewrite section four of the Voting Rights Act, which was struck down today, so that the Justice Department can continue its nearly 50 years of vigilance in protecting the right to vote for all Americans,” Merrill said.
In his response to the ruling, President Barack Obama issued this statement in response to Shelby v. Holder to the press:
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.
As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”