Essential Pittsburgh
4:14 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

Impact of the Supreme Court Voting Right's Act Decision

The SCOTUS decision on key parts of the Voting Right's Act is a point of concern for many local civic organizations.
The SCOTUS decision on key parts of the Voting Right's Act is a point of concern for many local civic organizations.
Credit Flickr

Last week's 5-4 Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act struck down a key aspect that has been used to promote and protect the political power of minority voters. This has not gone over well with many activists and civic organizations. 

Among the concerned groups is Pittsburgh's Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), who held a press conference yesterday to voice their disappointment with the court's decision.

Today, B-PEP Chairman Tim Stevens discussed the far reaching implications for voting rights.

"I'm old enough to have been on the planet when this voting rights act went into effect," Stevens said, noting that the lessons and sacrifice of the Civil Rights era have been overlooked in many discussions of voting restrictions in the current era. One of Stevens' primary concerns with the outcome of this case was the "judicial activism" that he felt was apparent in the decision, he cited the overwhelming legislative support the 2006 amendment to the act received.

Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies at Demos Public Policy Organization, echoed Stevens' disappointment with the decision, calling it "dreadful" and questioning the rationale of the majority in the decision.

"It's based on reasoning that is very hard to defend." 

On the subject of judicial activism, Wright noted that the 15th Amendment to the Constitution appears to stipulate that congress' power over protecting the right to vote was particularly strong, and that it was surprising to see the court take so much control over the law.

Furthermore, she stated that the decision reflected obliviousness to the current racial climate.

Wright also argued that the court failed to recognize the amount of flexibility that the law had.  According to Wright, any of the states targeted by the law could be released from the pre-clearance if they could provide evidence that no discrimination had occurred for ten years.

Even more disconcerting for Stevens was the speed with which some states began to create voting restrictions following the decision, citing laws being pushed in states such as Texas and Mississippi.

The Supreme Court's decision doesn't mean the end of protections for minority voters, however, so long as congress can pass new legislation that changes the formula for determining which regions will need pre-clearance, and Wright was optimistic that this would be an issue that they would be able to agree on.

"There has been a history of bi-partisan support for the Voting Right's Act." She said. "It's been a source of pride for people."