On Tuesday, June 25, 2013 the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Section 4 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965 is invalid in Shelby County v. Holder. Section 4 is the provision of the law that desginates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting law cleared by the federal government. Virginia is one of the states which falls under this Section for minority discriminatory practices in voting.
Virginia Leaders speak out on the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on the Voting Rights Act:
Office of Governor Bob McDonnell:
“Today’s ruling maintains the portions of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit discriminatory practices and procedures. As Governor, I will ensure that the Commonwealth remains committed to protecting the rights of its citizens and ensuring that every Virginian’s vote counts. Virginia will continue to faithfully comply with the Constitution and the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act. I will work with the Attorney General to continue to conduct a thorough review of proposed changes to voting laws to ensure compliance with the Constitution and the VRA.”
Office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:
“Virginia is committed to fair elections, fair voting districts, and ensuring everyone’s vote counts. Regardless of the court’s decision, legal mechanisms remain in place to safeguard the vote of Virginia’s citizens. My role as attorney general is to ensure that those safeguards are followed and that Virginia’s voting procedures continue to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Speaker William J. Howell:
“The General Assembly has been vigilant in drawing voting districts that are consistent with the law, which is why our district lines cleared President Obama’s Justice Department scrutiny in the latest rounds of redistricting. The members of the General Assembly simply will not tolerate redistricting that sanctions discrimination.”
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr.:
“Voter discrimination has no place in the Commonwealth and will not be tolerated by members of the Senate of Virginia. As every Virginia voter who believes a voting law or redistricting line to be discriminatory retains the ability to bring a court challenge, protections against voter discrimination remain intact despite the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act.”
On the ruling, President Obama wrote:
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.
On August 6, 1965, a piece of legislation was signed that outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been the culprit for widespead suppression of African American, Colored or Black voters in America.
The language is clear under the 15 amendment, the Act prohibits states from imposing certain “voter qualifications or prerequisite” to vote or standard practice or procedure, and race or color. Members of the 89th United State Congress intended the act to outlaw practices for qualified voters to pass literacy tests in order to vote, a prime means to prevent blacks from voting in Southern states.
The Voter Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who had recently signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Dr. Martin Luther King JR was in attendance.
Virginia Senator Henry L. Marsh III remembers one of the most exciting days in our history. During our interview on the signing of the Voter Rights Act of 1965, he said, “Virginia tried to resist coming under the act, Sam Tucker, Lester Bank and myself testified before Congress against acting Virginia Attorney General Fred Gray.” Gray tried to convince Congress that Virginia did not do terrible acts that other Southern states had done. Marsh said, ” Virginia amended the constitution in 1901 to provide for poll taxes and literacy tests to vote.”
In Virginia, to vote you had to pay a “poll tax” as an African American, Colored or Black registered voter until 1965.
Marsh, Tucker and Banks convinced the US Congress with lots of evidence that Virginia deserved to be under the Act because of our history.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Honorable Henry L. Marsh III
President Lyndon B. Johson gives remarks at the signing of the Voter Rights Act of 1965