By Lauren Williams
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law 48 years ago today. But in June, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court struck down a major section of the law, freeing jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to change their voting laws without federal permission. For decades, Section 5 of the VRA required a number of jurisdictions, mostly in the South, to seek the feds’ approval—called preclearance, in legal parlance—before modifying voting rules. The Supreme Court’s decision gutted Section 5, paving the way for new discriminatory laws.
Since the high court ruling, North Carolina has passed what critics have called the worst voter ID law in the country, Texas pushed ahead with a voter ID law and redistricting plan that the VRA blocked last year, and Attorney General Eric Holder has vowed to continue to challenge discriminatory voting laws despite the Supreme Court ruling. Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, announced this week that he would renew his efforts to purge “noncitizens” from the voter rolls, a messy, inaccurate practice that the Justice Department says violates the VRA and unfairly targets black and Latino voters.
In honor of the VRA’s anniversary, here are five recent and egregious examples of minority discrimination that were blocked by Section 5, the part of the law the Supreme Court eviscerated in June:
- In 2001, the all-white board of aldermen in the town of Kilmichael, Mississippi (pop. 830), canceled town elections after an unprecedented number of black candidates made it onto the ballot. When the Department of Justice (DOJ) forced an election and the town finally voted, it elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.
- During a 2004 city council primary in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a Vietnamese American candidate, Phuong Tan Huynh, ran against white incumbent Jackie Ladnier. Ladnier and his supporters challenged about 50 Asian American voters at the polls. Their reason? If they couldn’t speak English well, they might not be citizens. The DOJ intervened, and Huynh became the first Asian American on the city council.