After news spread of the Supreme Court's decision to void a key part of the Voting Rights Act, mixed reaction began to pour in from national, statewide and local leaders.
See below for statements from President Obama, Governor Bentley, the ACLU of Alabama and more:
From President Barack Obama via the White House Press Office
Statement by the President on the Supreme Court Ruling on Shelby County v. Holder
I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today's decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.
As a nation, we've made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today's decision is a setback, it doesn't represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.
From Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
Governor Bentley Issues Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Voting Rights Act
Alabama has made tremendous progress over the past 50 years, and this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that progress. We will not tolerate discrimination in Alabama.
Fifty years ago, there were valid reasons this law was passed. But even though conditions changed over time, the Section 4 test of the Voting Rights Act did not. As Chief Justice Roberts said when he delivered the Supreme Court's opinion, ‘history did not end in 1965,' and ‘history since 1965 cannot be ignored.' Further, he said, ‘The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.'
The ruling also notes that the Tenth Amendment ‘reserves to the States all powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government, including "the power to regulate elections."' And the ruling continues to say, ‘There is also a "fundamental principle of equal sovereignty" among the States, which is highly pertinent in assessing disparate treatment of States.' Also, the ruling says, ‘The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles. It requires States to beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own.'
Today's ruling is historic. It reflects how conditions have improved since 1965. And as Chief Justice Roberts also said, this ruling returns us to the principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty.
From Attorney General Luther Strange
AG Strange praises the U.S. Supreme Court for Declaring Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act Unconstitutional
Attorney General Luther Strange calls a ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, "an important victory for the fundamental constitutional principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty."
In a 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress's 2006 reauthorization of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Section 4 set a formula for determining which jurisdictions would be "covered" and thus require preclearance from federal bureaucrats before making any changes to voting laws. The criteria for determining whether a county or state was a covered jurisdiction had remained unchanged for almost half a century.
The State of Alabama authored and filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case. The brief argued that "in 2013, there should not be the Uncovered States of America and the Covered States of America." Although Section 4 was constitutional when it was passed nearly fifty years ago, the brief noted, "Alabama has a new generation of leaders with no connection to the tragic events of 1965." The brief explained that the preclearance requirements "undermine good government" and make it "substantially more difficult for Alabama's leaders to achieve important, much-needed reforms."
Attorney General Strange praises the court for holding that the coverage formula no longer makes sense: "The Supreme Court today rightly recognized that Alabama and other covered jurisdictions could not be treated unequally based on things that happened decades ago. The important protections of Section 2 of the Voting Rights remain in place, preserving for all citizens the right to challenge discriminatory laws in court. At the same time, I am proud that the nation's highest court recognizes the important progress made over the last fifty years, and I commend the court for its decision."
Attorney General Strange continued: "My office will continue to review the opinion and its implications. At this time, our initial conclusion is that Alabama is no longer subject to the preclearance requirements under Section 5. We expect significant savings for Alabama taxpayers because neither the State nor local governments will have to expend time, money and effort on submitting routine changes to voting laws to Washington, D.C., for approval."
"Alabama will only be subject to the preclearance process if Congress adopts a new coverage formula that includes Alabama," Attorney General Strange stated. "But let me be clear, I do not believe Alabama should be included under any new coverage formula that Congress might adopt. As the Court rightly points out, minority participation in voting is in fact higher in Alabama and many other covered jurisdictions than it is in many non-covered jurisdictions."
From Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman
Statement by Secretary of State Beth Chapman on the US Supreme Court Decision in Shelby County v. Holder
Secretary of State Beth Chapman said today's US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act is a pivotal time in Alabama's election history. The decision came from a court case from Shelby County which made its way to the top court in the nation.
While there was no ruling on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act itself, the Court held that Congress must revise the formula located in Section 4 used to determine which states must have every change to election laws approved by the United States Department of Justice.
Alabama has been one of nine states since the mid 1960's who had to pre-clear all changes to their voting procedures with the US Department of Justice.
"We are not the same state we were decades ago and I am glad that the majority of the Supreme Court recognizes that fact," Chapman said. "Alabama has made great progress in our elections process."
There still exists a provision of the Voting Rights Act where issues of discrimination can be prosecuted.
"If there is a time or circumstance where a voter feels there has been any discrimination regarding the elections process, then Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act will provide a way for that case to be heard as it should," Chapman said.
"Chief Justice Roberts and a majority of the court recognize the Alabama of today is not the Alabama of the past. We will continue to provide fair and honest elections for all citizens." Chapman said.
From Senate Minority Leader Vivan Davis Figures
Statement from Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures responding to the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder
"Today, I am saddened and disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional. Even though the Court's majority opinion acknowledges that voting discrimination still exists, the Justices nevertheless determined that the formula used to enforce the Voting Rights Act was ‘outdated'. In a year that marks the 50th anniversary of many milestones in the Civil Rights Movement, the Supreme Court's decision dealt voters a huge setback to justice by essentially eliminating the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. This is a total injustice and another tactic to suppress the minority vote. The members of Congress must immediately enact a new statute to ensure the protection of every American's right to vote. The lives that were lost fighting to enact the Voting Rights Act must not be lost in vain."
From Susan Watson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama
We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has put up a roadblock to make voting less free, fair, and accessible. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been critically important to our state. It blocked 46 discriminatory voting laws in Alabama between 1982 and 2006; the state also violated Section 2, another critical provision of the Voting Rights Act that protects against discrimination, 192 times.
We know Congress is committed to protect the rights of minority voters on a bipartisan basis. Congress has reauthorized Section 5 every time since its passage and most recently reauthorized it with overwhelming bipartisan support, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006.
When Congress extended Section 5 in 2006 for another 25 years, it overwhelmingly concluded that there is a great need for it, and said that without the Voting Rights Act's protections, the minority vote will be diluted.
The ACLU will continue to fight to preserve the right to vote for all Americans in courts and state legislatures. We call upon our state's legislators to protect and expand the precious right to vote.
While we are disappointed by the decision in Shelby, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona decision decided by the Supreme Court on June 17 by a 7-2 decision makes clear that states cannot impose voter registration requirements beyond what federal law permits. All eligible Alabama voters can register without having to provide burdensome and costly proof-of-citizenship documentation.
From Congresswoman Terri Sewell
Statement by Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell on the Supreme Court Decision Shelby County, AL v. Holder
Today, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (AL-07) released the following statement after the Supreme Court ruled to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"Today's Supreme Court ruling is a major setback for voting rights in this country. As a native of Selma and the U.S. representative who now represents the civil rights district of Alabama, I know that the injustices suffered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday 1965 have not been fully vindicated. Unfortunately, the State of Alabama and this nation still has much work to do. The facts of the Shelby County case prove this very point. It is terribly ironic that the state responsible for the enactment of the Voting Rights Act is now being used by the Supreme Court to dismantle the core of that Act. We cannot rejoice in the failure of our nation's highest court to uphold voter protections that were so hard fought.
By striking down the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has ostensibly nullified the effects of the preclearance provisions of Section 5 in total disregard of the facts Congress relied upon when it overwhelmingly reauthorized the Act in 2006.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of so many milestones in the Civil Rights Movement, today's decision reminds us that while we have the right to vote, that right is not without pervasive threats. It is now incumbent upon Congress to act quickly in developing a new coverage formula and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in protecting all Americans right to vote."
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