WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington, civil and voting rights groups were blunt in describing their reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“A disaster!” one said.
“Grave disappointment,” said another.
Chanelle Hardy heads the National Urban League’s Policy Institute. She says the court, by invalidating Section 4 of the law, stands at odds with history and sets back decades of progress.
“We really were hoping that the Supreme Court would uphold what has been decades of established jurisprudence and protect the most fundamental American right, which is the right to vote. So we really see this as a blow to the ability of Americans to be able to vote without facing unreasonable restrictions,” Hardy said.
Supporters of the Voting Rights Act say its provisions are as relevant today as they were over 40 years ago when the law was enacted. They point to the 2012 presidential election and what they consider deliberate voter suppression efforts, such as early voting restrictions and voter ID laws.
“We are seeing the most intense effort to suppress the vote since Jim Crow right now. And the idea that in the midst of all that, the Supreme Court would say, ‘What we need right now is less voting rights.’ I mean, either they are ignorant of what’s going on right now in the States or that indicates they are supportive of it,” said Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress.
The court has left it up to Congress to revive the Voting Rights Act. A congressional vote in 2006 to extend the law was overwhelmingly bipartisan, but it’s not clear if the current Congress will act swiftly or as decisively.
“Every time it’s been reauthorized, the Voting Rights Act has been signed into law by a Republican president: President Nixon, President Ford, President Reagan and President Bush. It’s important for that bipartisan tradition to continue and I’m hopeful that Congress will move forward,” said New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries.
Meanwhile, civil rights advocates say they aren’t done fighting to preserve and expand the right to vote.