A new voter ID law threatened to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters who are mostly people of color in South Carolina last year. Florida officials tried to curtail early voting that could have kept African Americans and others from the polls. Texas went for a twofer in voter suppression with a restrictive voter ID bill and a redistricting plan that put the voting rights of millions of African Americans and Latinos at risk.
Aside from being part of a concerted voter suppression effort by Republican legislators and governors and extreme groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Florida, South Carolina and Texas cases had one thing in common. Thanks to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the federal government was able to step in and preserve the people’s right to vote.
But now the same forces behind the nationwide voter suppression effort are looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal Section 5 and arguments begin Wednesday. While this case is brought by an Alabama county, if the court rules Section 5 is unconstitutional, it will apply to all 16 covered jurisdictions.
Section 5 covers all or parts of 16 states with long histories of voter discrimination. It requires those jurisdictions to receive approval from the Justice Department for any changes they make to voting rights. Section 5 is part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, in 2006, was reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan support; 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.