ATLANTA (AP/WAOK) – Georgia officials have reacted cautiously to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Georgia has had to get federal approval for election law changes, from polling location to district lines. The court didn’t strike down the “preclearance” rule itself. But the justices invalidated the formula used to determine what states submit their changes.
The question is what that means for new laws that Georgia officials have submitted to the Justice Department but not gotten a decision.
Attorney General Sam Olens praised the court’s ruling in a statement but didn’t say how he interpreted its effect on pending changes.
A spokesman in Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office said the state’s top election lawyers are reviewing the decision.
National reaction to the ruling came from the civil rights community and President Barack Obama.
Statement by President Obama 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.
Representative John Lewis
Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years.
These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights.
I remember in the 1960s when people of color were the majority in the small town of Tuskegee, Alabama. To insure that a black person would not be elected, the state gerrymandered Tuskegee Institute and the black sections of town so they fell outside the city limits. This reminds me too much of a case that occurred in Randolph County in my own state of Georgia, when the first black man was elected to the board of education in 2002. The county legislature changed his district so he would not be re-elected.
I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today. The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as they were in 1965. One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.
As Justice Ginsberg mentioned, it took a Bloody Sunday for Congress to finally decide to fix on-going, institutionalized discrimination that occurred for 100 years after the rights of freed slaves were nullified at the end of the Civil War. I am deeply concerned that Congress will not have the will to fix what the Supreme Court has broken. I call upon the members of this body to do what is right to insure free and fair access to the ballot box in this country.
Dr. R.L. White, president of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP:
The news of the Supreme Court decision has caused me and my peers much pain. At a time when there are forces trying to turn back the gains in this country 50 years, a ruling of this magnitude seems to be welcome news to those who have traditionally opposed the rights of the least of these to be able to exercise what is a constitutional right of all citizens. I will await the lead of the National NAACP as to the appropriate response to this tragic decision.