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Voting Rights Act explored in ‘Bending Toward Justice’

Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Shelby County v. Holder, a case that challenges the constitutionality of a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act,

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 5/2/2013, noon

“Ironically, when the Voting Rights Act came up for renewal in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, all the presidents were Republican,” says May. “And each one of them — with the possible exception of George W. Bush — set out to weaken the Voting Rights Act.”

In particular, Section 5, which requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to get approval from the Justice Department before making any changes to voting procedure, was targeted by conservatives under the Ford and Reagan administrations, who felt it unfairly singled out Southern states and represented an overstep of the federal government.

Today, Section 5 is still in jeopardy — this time, because of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder case — and May says that this provision remains critical to securing fairness at the polls.

“The Southern states that are covered by Section 5 led the voter suppression movement in 2010, 2011 and 2012,” he says, “and it’s from those states that came the voter ID laws, demands that Sunday voting be stopped and the prevention of organizations like the League of Women Voters from signing up new voters.”

According to May, it was precisely because of Section 5 that many of the recent voter ID laws, which May says are “pretty close” to the poll taxes and literacy tests of the past, were stopped.

“America is becoming a more multi-ethnic, multi-racial society, and instead of adjusting to it, accepting it, being happy about it, so many of these states, and Republicans in particular, are trying to suppress that development,” May says. “We’re going to see more of voter ID and other efforts to suppress the vote, but Obama’s re-election, which showed an increase in African American, Hispanic and Asian American turnout, is a sign that people are not going to go back, and that the Civil Rights Movement is still a potent force to be reckoned with.”