In 1965, 25,000 people marched to Montgomery, Alabama to help pass the Voting Rights Act. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, including Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, heard arguments on a section of this historic legislation with their decision having a big impact on the Latino vote.
The case is Shelby Co. v. Holder. This mainly white suburban area near Birmingham, Alabama is suing the federal government in the form of Attorney General Eric Holder forrenewing in 2008 section five of this major civil rights era legislation for twenty-five more years. This part seeks to prevent states, counties, and communities with the most widespread discrimination against minorities from changing election laws without the federal government’s permission. These areas include the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota, as well as some communities in Michigan and New Hampshire are covered.
Shelby County and its supporters insist the feds are overstepping their boundaries at the expense of states’ rights to decide for its constituents. They argue that in trying to protect against voter discrimination, the federal government is blatantly being prejudiced, asking why a state on the section five list such as Texas be treated differently than, for example, Maryland which is not on this list. They claim the law once served its purpose, but that minorities’ social, political, and economic gains render it obsolete today.
Shelby County critics disagree. They say discrimination continues and urge the Court to step in to protect the rights of citizens. Latino community advocates point to the various attempts to restrict voter rights such as today’s voter list purges without adequate notice or investigation; voter identification laws requiring a government-issued photo ID in places where once only a student ID or utility bill was enough; and laws on the redistricting of congressional and legislative maps which they claim dilute the Hispanic vote, for example, in Texas where the community has grown.
Click here to watch a video where young Latinas explain how a Texas voter ID law affects them.
Latinos have a big stake in this fight. Although our community voted in record numbers last November, millions still need to register and cast ballots--a number that’s expected to grow with our population. Given some areas track record, how will our vote be protected without section five of the Voting Rights Act?
The Supreme Court justices have heard both sides. They now evaluate the evidence and must come to a decision, which is expected early summer before their vacation.
Viviana Hurtado Ph.D., founder of the Hispanic woman-focused news and current events website The Wise Latina Club, is Latina’s Washington, DC-based political correspondent. Read Viviana's political posts here.