AJC Urges Congress to Reinforce Voting Rights Act after Supreme Court Ruling

June 25, 2013 – New York – AJC is disappointed with today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act. The court ruled, 5-4, that an important pre-clearance requirement of the landmark 1965 law is unconstitutional.

Section 4 of the Act has provided the formula for determining which states must have any changes to their voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department's civil rights division. The Court, striking down Section 4, left it to Congress to rewrite the pre-clearance requirements.

“The pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been an important bulwark against discrimination in the exercise of the right to vote in jurisdictions with long, sordid and intolerable records of racism in affording access to that right,” said AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern. The Court did not rule on Section 5 of the Act, requiring pre-clearance of voting laws in certain states, but that section may have been nullified by striking down Section 4.

“While today’s Supreme Court action nominally leaves intact the requirement of pre-clearance even as it invalidates the provision that triggers it, the result is to free all jurisdictions from the pre-clearance requirement, and that will harm the ability of all citizens, of whatever race, to vote,” said Stern.

Stern acknowledged, as the Court noted, that some jurisdictions currently subject to pre-clearance requirements no longer require pre-clearance. “But the law already allows them to ‘bail-out’ of the Act,” said Stern. “With Congress having just recently—on the basis of an extensive record—renewed the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, trigger provision and all, the Court was, in our judgment, wrong to invalidate the existing trigger.”

AJC strongly urges Congress to move forward quickly to develop a formula to require pre-clearance for those jurisdictions that stubbornly adhere to practices that thwart full access to the ballot. In the meantime, AJC urges the Department of Justice to make full, vigorous and innovative use of other authorities it possesses to thwart racial discrimination in voting.

AJC joined in an amicus brief filed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in support of the Voting Rights Act.