Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 25, 2014 to Mark the First Anniversary of ‘Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder’ Decision

“And then last March, with the outrage of Selma still fresh, I came down to this Capitol one evening and asked the Congress and the people for swift and for sweeping action to guarantee to every man and woman the right to vote. In less than 48 hours I sent the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Congress. In little more than 4 months the Congress, with overwhelming majorities, enacted one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.”
                                       President Lyndon Baines Johnson
                                       Remarks on the Signing of the Voting Rights Act, Aug. 6, 1965

June 25, 2014 will mark the one year anniversary of Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder ( decision when the Supreme Court made significant changes to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that changed “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom” according to President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Marcia F. Johnson-Blanco, Co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project (, explained how the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby “gutted the most critical parts of the Voting Rights Act” to a group gathered recently at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington, D.C. 

Organizers for the meeting are members of the Reeb Project for Voting Rights (, which is named for the Rev. James Reeb, a minister of All Souls who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama in 1965.  He was there to attend a march for voting rights.  A plaque hangs in his honor at the Church.

According to the Reeb Project’s Web page, Section 4 of the VRA established a “formula” to identify areas with widespread and persistent patterns of voter discrimination, which included:

     1. The presence of some “test” to determine voter eligibility (such as a literacy test or test of “moral character”); and
     2.   Proof that less than 50 percent of the voting age population was registered to vote in a given area.

Section 5 of the act provided the means for preclearance to enforce areas covered under Section 4 requiring these jurisdictions to submit any new voting laws to the Justice Department for review to ensure these laws complied with the VRA. 

Nine states, 56 counties, and two townships met these criteria ( and required more stringent enforcement.  Those states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. 

Under Section 5, any new voting laws proposed in these jurisdictions were required to be subject to Justice Department review.  If the laws violated the act, the Justice Department could formally object to the proposed changes and prevent their enactment, without having to sue in federal court. 

The Shelby County decision leaves “no formula in place to cover Section 5”, according to Johnson-Blanco.  The coverage formula ( was put into place to protect voter suppression.

The Reeb Project posts that for over 40 years the Justice Department has used the preclearance process to prevent thousands of potentially discriminatory laws from being enforced by states and counties across the country.

Johnson-Blanco distributed the Lawyers’ Committee’s Map of Shame ( representing the states that have passed restrictive voting laws since the Shelby County decision was issued in 2013.  Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

North Carolina has reduced early voting, eliminated same day registration, and a photo ID (the ID requirement is NOT in effect for 2014).  All voting law changes are currently challenged in court.

In an effort to counter the impact of the restrictive voting laws passed in North Carolina, the Reeb Project, which is part of an interfaith group, seeks to increase voter turnout in Charlotte, North Carolina during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.  They will be working with local Unitarian Universalists and people of color partner organizations.

As we approach the one  year anniversary of Shelby County, it is notable that of the nine states that were covered by Section 5, all but one (Louisiana) has tried to pass restrictive voting laws since Shelby County.  They are joined by an additional six states. 

Fortunately, there are 12 states that comprise the Map of Hope ( featuring those states that considered expanding access to voting since Shelby County.  

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian.