FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
CONTACT: Ian Koski at 202-224-4216
Statement from Senator Coons ahead of Supreme Court arguments on Voting Rights Act
Supreme Court will hear arguments on Shelby County v. Holder on Wednesday
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of legislation to reform our nation’s elections to prevent the kind of voter disenfranchisement experienced in 2012, issued the following statement ahead of the Supreme Court’s arguments on Shelby County v. Holder on Wednesday.
“Voting rights in this country are under attack, and the Supreme Court could remove a critical tool that is working to protect those fundamental rights.
“Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will consider whether to invalidate the key provision of the Voting Rights Act — one that protects the fundamental right of every American to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice.
“As the Supreme Court hears arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, justices will test the constitutionality of the Act’s requirement that jurisdictions with a history of racially based voting discrimination 'pre-clear' changes to their voting laws. Opponents of the law argue that the Act is unconstitutional because it only requires voting practices in areas with deep, historical discrimination patterns to be pre-cleared, while other jurisdictions need not.
“Quite simply, they are wrong. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that Congress may distinguish between the states and even between political subdivisions within states when acting to remedy voting discrimination. This determination is for Congress — not the Courts — to make.
“There is another, practical reason why the Supreme Court ought to leave the Voting Rights Act alone: any state or subdivision is free to petition the Department of Justice to be exempted from the preclearance requirements of the Act. States, counties and towns have the ongoing opportunity to show that Congress’ determination of past discrimination no longer applies. Since 2006, 28 jurisdictions have succeeded in gaining exemption from this provision – about the same as during the first 41 years since the Voting Rights Act was originally passed.
“The Voting Rights Act is landmark civil rights legislation and should be preserved. By requiring that covered jurisdictions carry the burden of showing that changes to voting laws will not act to discriminate against minorities and are not motivated by a purpose to discriminate, the law has been incredibly successful in preventing most covered jurisdictions from even attempting to pass discriminatory voting laws. It is working well and the Supreme Court should leave it alone. I am confident that it will.”