It has been eight years since the Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v. Holder was made. Our democracy has been suffering from its devastating effects ever since.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated the “preclearance provision” of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the attorney general or federal courts to pre-approve new voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of racial voter suppression.
Across the country, an immense number of restrictive laws have been introduced by state legislatures.
The single decision has led to an eight-year tidal wave of voter suppression. Across the country, an immense number of restrictive laws have been introduced by state legislatures that purge voter rolls, limit early voting, limit access to drop-off ballot boxes, impose strict I.D. laws, and enact other measures that disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.
In 2013, for instance, soon after Shelby County v. Holder, North Carolina enacted a law that imposed new voter I.D. restrictions, which a circuit court later found targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” This was simply the start of a disturbing and ever-growing trend. In 2021 alone, almost 400 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 48 states that seek to silence the voices of the American people—and particularly Black and brown voters, who voted in record numbers during the 2020 election cycle.
Just this month, in the midst of this troubling regression, the Supreme Court yet again seriously weakened the Voting Rights Act, this time in the case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The court’s decision upheld two restrictive voting laws in Arizona that disproportionately affected Indigenous, Latino, and Black voters.
One law requires that ballots cast in the wrong precinct be discarded, and the other makes it a crime for people to collect and deliver ballots to polling places, with the exception of family members, caregivers, and elected officials. The defense argued that since these laws disproportionately affect voters of color, they are in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which makes it illegal to enact any laws that result in the abridgement of a citizen’s right to vote on the basis of race.
We strongly urge legislators to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act before it’s too late.
The Supreme Court, however, concluded that the disproportionate impact of these laws on voters of color was minor and hence does not violate the law. With this decision, the Supreme Court not only ignored American’s long history of racialized voter discrimination, but also the growing wave of present-day voter suppression nationwide.
There is, however, hope in these difficult times for democracy. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is awaiting re-introduction, would restore the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act by updating the formula to determine which states need pre-approval before changing their voting laws. However, it cannot retroactively invalidate the suppressive laws already adopted by states since 2013. The For the People Act (S.1) would have done so, but it recently failed in the Senate.
Our democracy could deteriorate to the point of no return if voter suppression is to continue growing unchecked. With the Supreme Court’s recent decision, it is now up to Congress to ensure that everyone has an equal voice in our democratic process. We strongly urge legislators to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act before it’s too late.