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Why Latinos Must Weigh in on Current Voting Rights Case

With the Latino share of the electorate set to double within two decades, protecting the right to vote is more important than ever. Here are the top 10 reasons the Latino community must weigh in on the Supreme Court’s current Voting Rights Act case.

March 14, 2013

Cross­pos­ted at Vida Vibrante.

The Voting Rights Act is under scru­tiny in a current Supreme Court case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. The 1965 Act, a legis­la­tion enacted because of the civil rights move­ment’s demands for equity, justice, and human rights, outlaws discrim­in­at­ory voting prac­tices that have been respons­ible for the wide­spread disen­fran­chise­ment of racial and ethnic minor­it­ies in the United States. 

The Pew Hispanic Center estim­ates that the Latino share of the elect­or­ate will double within two decades. This is one of the many reas­ons why protect­ing the right to vote is so import­ant for each and every member of the Latino community. Follow­ing are the top 10 reas­ons why we must weigh in on the current voting rights case.

#1. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an import­ant piece of civil rights legis­la­tion.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local govern­ments don’t pass laws or policies that deny Amer­ican citizens the equal right to vote based on race.

#2. The Voting Rights Act helps every­one have better access to the ballot box.

The Voting Rights Act does a number of import­ant things: it outlaws liter­acy tests, appoints federal exam­iners in certain areas to register voters and monitor elec­tions, and crim­in­al­izes voter intim­id­a­tion, threats, and coer­cion.

#3. Section 5 is a vital part of the Voting Rights Act.

One of the most crit­ical parts of the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, or the “preclear­ance” provi­sion. Section 5 of the law requires certain states, cities, and counties — includ­ing those with large popu­la­tions of Latino voters, like Arizona, Texas, and certain counties in Cali­for­nia and Flor­ida — to submit any changes in voting proced­ures to the Depart­ment of Justice or a federal district court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. for approval before imple­ment­a­tion. These juris­dic­tions must prove that the proposed change will not have the effect of discrim­in­at­ing against minor­ity voters. Section 5 applies to all or part of 16 states.

#4. Section 5 is an import­ant tool now.

Between 1982 and 2006, the Voting Rights Act blocked more than 1,000 proposed discrim­in­at­ory voting changes. Without Section 5’s protec­tion, these changes would have gone into effect and harmed minor­ity voters. Just last year, states such as Texas, Flor­ida, and South Caro­lina tried to pass laws that would have made it harder for hundreds of thou­sands of minor­ity voters to cast a ballot in the elec­tion. Section 5 was able to block or substan­tially modify these discrim­in­at­ory laws before they went into effect.

#5. Shelby County is covered by Section 5.

In 2010, Shelby County filed a lawsuit, Shelby County v. Holder, claim­ing that Congress did not have the required consti­tu­tional author­ity when it reau­thor­ized Section 5 in 2006. Shelby County wants the law to be inval­id­ated not only in Alabama, but every­where that Section 5 applies.

#6. Shelby County, Alabama has a recent history of discrim­in­a­tion in voting.

In 2008, Calera, one of the county’s six muni­cip­al­it­ies, enacted a redis­trict­ing plan without comply­ing with the Voting Rights Act, which led to the inab­il­ity of the city’s only black coun­cil­man to compete fairly. Under Section 5, however, Calera was forced to aban­don the discrim­in­at­ory redis­trict­ing plan and the former black coun­cil­man was able to win a seat on the city coun­cil.

#7. The Voting Rights Act has firm consti­tu­tional basis in the 15th Amend­ment.

The 15th Amend­ment ensures the right to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race, and gives Congress the author­ity to protect this right.

#8. In 2006, Congress voted to reau­thor­ize Section 5 with a near unan­im­ous vote. 

In 2006, after hold­ing over 20 hear­ings and review­ing more than 15,000 pages of evid­ence, Repub­lic­ans and Demo­crats voted over­whelm­ingly to approve the Voting Rights Act for 25 mote years —98–0 in the Senate and 390–33 in the House. Pres­id­ent George W. Bush signed the bill into law.

#9. If Section 5 falls, fair repres­ent­a­tion for Lati­nos and other communit­ies of color is at risk.

Without the VRA, discrim­in­at­ory voting prac­tices will be easier for states to adopt and more diffi­cult to combat. Voting changes will take effect with far less scru­tiny before imple­ment­a­tion. The other tools for chal­len­ging discrim­in­at­ory voting rules will remain, but Section 5 requires federal approval in some juris­dic­tions before voter changes take effect, as opposed to after the meas­ure is in place.
#10. We must protect the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court heard oral argu­ment in Shelby County v. Holder on Febru­ary 27, 2013, and is expec­ted to issue a decision this summer. The Voting Rights Act is a real life mani­fest­a­tion of our Consti­tu­tion’s prom­ise that every Amer­ican citizen, regard­less of race, has the equal right to vote. A decision to uphold Section 5 will protect many Latino voters against discrim­in­a­tion at the ballot box and provide oppor­tun­it­ies for Lati­nos to elect their candid­ates of choice.

Photo by nath­an­gibbs.