ACLU NEWS RELEASE: Supreme Court Hears Voting Rights Act Challenge
Rep. John Lewis’ First Supreme Court Appearance
WASHINGTON, D.C. –On Wednesday April 29, Rep. John Lewis will attend the arguments of a Supreme Court case for the first time in his congressional tenure. Arguments will begin at 10 AM at the U.S. Supreme Court. Rep. Lewis will walk from his office to the court at about 9:15 AM. He has visited the court, but he has never sat to hear a case in the almost 23 years since he’s been in office.
That speaks to the importance of the case the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow, one of the seminal voting rights trials of our time—Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. Mounted in 2006 just days after the expiring sections of the Voting Rights Act were reauthorized for 25 more years, if decided negatively, the case would undo decades of influential and effective voting rights law.
At issue is the constitutionality of Section 5, the heart of the act, which requires that jurisdictions with a proven history of voting discrimination have all voting changes reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department before they can take effect. If decided negatively, this case would make it unconstitutional for Congress to legislate federal pre-clearance intervention in voting matters.
“The record of present day voting rights violations, “said Rep. John Lewis, “ that Congress amassed during the reauthorization period makes it very clear. People are still struggling in America today. American citizens are still struggling today for free and fair access to the ballot box. Right here in Georgia we had our own problems, not just in 1968, but in 2008. Citizens and the federal government raised questions about voting procedures in Georgia. Without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there would have been no legal means to insure some measure of justice for the voters in Georgia. This constitutional challenge is very important. It is like a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act.”
Rep. Lewis is a symbol of this nation’s struggle for voting rights. He was one of the leaders of a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. 600 peaceful marchers were met by Alabama state troopers at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marchers were attacked, and Lewis was hit with a unconscious and left unconscious on the bridge. That day became known as Bloody Sunday, but it helped create the climate and the condition to pass the Voting Rights Act, at issue in the court tomorrow. Lewis submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court in support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
“Some people want to argue that because we have elected the first African American president,” said Lewis, “we no longer need to protect ourselves from voting discrimination. That is like saying once you have built a path that gets you halfway to your destination, you don’t need that road any more. As long as there is evidence of voting discrimination in states which have historically and systematically denied citizens of the right to vote, as there is in Georgia, there will be a persistent and continuous need for voting rights protection. Section 5 was necessary in 1965, and it is still necessary today.” ####