On the day before the US Supreme Court was to hear a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke out on the House floor to call on the country’s highest court to preserve the 48 year old law.
Jeffries (D-East New York-Flatlands) called the Voting Rights Act a law that “relates to the integrity of our democracy” during his speech on Feb. 26.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, districts in 16 states, including New York, with large numbers of minority voters were required to obtain approval from either the Department of Justice or a three-judge Federal Court panel in Washington, D.C. before instituting changes in voting laws.
“The rationale for this section 5 preclearance requirement was because, in these covered jurisdictions, there was a history of discrimination as it related to the franchise, deliberate schemes designed to limit the ability of American citizens to participate in our democracy,” Jeffries said. “And as a result of this history, the Section 5 preclearance requirement was put into place. And it has worked. Over close to five decades that it has been in effect, it is perhaps the most successful piece of civil rights legislation that this congress has passed,” he said
On Feb. 27, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case seeking to throw out Section 5 the Voting Rights Act on the grounds that it is no longer needed.
Huffington Post reported that Conservative justices, including Antonin Scalia, expressed skepticism about the need for the law in modern day America.
Perhaps anticipating that skepticism, Jeffries and his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members said the law is very much needed today.
Since 2001, 41 states introduced laws designed to restrict voter access, according to Jeffries. “And then you have 34 states introduced photo identification requirements, 17 states introduced proof of citizenship requirements, 16 states introduced bills to limit registration, and nine states introduced bills to limit or reduce early voting periods,” he said, calling it “unprecedented in the history of our democracy.”
While the laws were passed, many of them did not take effect, according to Jeffries, who credited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as the reason. “That's an important point as it relates to the continuing relevance of section 5's preclearance requirement,” he said.
Jeffries said the Voting Rights Act “remains as relevant today as it was when it was passed in 1965.”