Today, the justices of the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for the fifth time since the law's passage in 1965. This section of the Voting Rights Act mandates that areas of the nation with a history of barring people of color from voting must get approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before they alter voting rules. A plaintiff from Shelby County, Alabama, is challenging section 5, saying that the discriminatory environment that once justified its enactment is much improved. Civil rights groups disagree, saying that the situation is improved because of the Act. In past challenges to the law, the Court has cited the fifteenth amendment - no governmental body can stand in the way of an individual's right to vote - in their decision to uphold all components.
Frank "Butch" Ellis, attorney to the Shelby County plaintiff, told NPR that "The South has changed[.] There's probably bits of [discrimination] everywhere, but there's no evidence that it's more prevalent in these covered jurisdictions than it is in the non-covered jurisdictions. That's our complaint." Ellis argues that the federal government oversteps its bounds in dictating what certain states can and cannot do with its voting rules.
A voting rights expert who has filed briefs on various voter suppression cases, Pam Karlan, said that "Shelby County still advertises itself as the heart of the Heart of Dixie, and that tells you that some things have not changed, or at least haven't changed enough to take the bandage off the wound."
A county or city with ten consecutive years without questionable proposed changes to its voting structure is exempt from federal monitoring.Politico notes that Shelby County has not toed the line; the city of Calera (within Shelby County) proposed a reshaping of its district in 2008 which would reduce the number of African American voters from 70.9% to 29.5%. The Department of Justice rejected the proposition, citing the rights of all people to select their representatives.
The case goes before the court after an election year that included multiple legislative attacks aimed at suppressing minority voters. Last year, 17 states passed voter suppression laws that increased wait times at the polls, decreased early voting days, and mandated state-issued IDs requirements for voting. New laws affecting the election process have already been suggested this year in preparation for mid-term elections.
Media Resources: NPR 2/27/2013; Huffington Post 2/27/2013; Politico 2/26/2013; Feminist Newswire 2/20/2013, 9/13/2012
8/31/2015 Chicago Activists Continue Hunger Strike to Save Predominately Black Public High School - Chicago residents have entered the second week of their hunger strike protesting the closure of Dyett High School, in the predominately African-American Bronzeville neighborhood located on the South Side of Chicago.
Parents and community members are calling on the Chicago Board of Education to keep Dyett - the only open-enrollment, neighborhood school in its area - open and accept a community plan to revitalize the school with a focus on science and green technology. . . .
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .