Government & Constitution

Time for Congress To End Unconstitutional Sections of the Voting Rights Act

It was Aug. 6, 1965, when the Congress–reacting in no small measure to televised images of mounting black civil rights protests and pressure from President Lyndon Johnson — passed the Voting Rights Act.

The political landscape of the South changed forever, and thousands of blacks have been elected to city, county and statewide offices in Southern states since then. 

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act–a nationwide ban on discrimination in voting–is permanent law.  Section 4 determines who is subject to Section 5 Justice Department pre-clearance of voting matters and whether the attorney general may send observers under Sections 6 and 8. Section 7 governs registration lists and 9 governs removing voters from those lists.

The end of Section 4 in August 2006 triggers the expiration of 5,6,7,8 and 9.

It is time for a majority in Congress–if it has any spine whatsoever–to dump all of those unconstitutional stipulations into the dustbin of history.

Section 5 applies only to part or all of 16 states— most of them the old Confederate States of America.  So the upcoming congressional debate should focus on the extent of voting abuses that still require special federal scrutiny and the adequacy of the Justice Department’s powers under the act.  

Congress must consider if the covered states such as Georgia are still sufficiently different from uncovered states such as Massachusetts to warrant all voting changes to be submitted to the Justice Department for prior approval. The answer?  There’s no concrete evidence that conditions in covered states 40 years later still require officials to go hat in hand to Justice bureaucrats for approval. 

Continuation of this differential treatment insults citizens and their elected legislatures in covered states by codifying that they are “racist” and “bigoted” and can’t be trusted to make legislative changes—but the rest of the country can! 

Making Section 5 permanent and extending it nationwide, as some Republicans suggest, would not only be costly and bureaucratic, but makes no sense given that current demographic trends in some areas guarantee that white voters will become a minority.  (The Democrat-run Justice Department has never protected disenfranchised white voters under this law, and it was only this year that a Republican-controlled Civil Rights Division of  Justice intervened in a blatant Mississippi case where black county officials were denying whites the right to vote.)

Furthermore, Section 5 objections received by the Justice Department have trickled in recent years to a handful.  Almost all changes submitted to the department from covered localities are non-controversial—raising no discrimination concerns.  This fact underscores that Section 5 coverage is too broad.  (By the way, even simply moving a polling place must be pre-cleared–more waste of time and taxpayers’ money.) 

There’s one last stipulation that Congress should also vote not to extend:  Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.  It discourages immigrants from learning English and blocks assimilation into American culture by requiring that if 5% of the population in a jurisdiction is non-English speaking, then ballots and election materials must be printed in foreign languages.  This is an enormous unfunded mandate on local jurisdictions.  (For example, Los Angeles must translate ballots and voting material into six languages.  )

The U.S. Justice Department can already adequately police voting abuses anywhere in the United States, if it so chooses.  It can send federal observers anywhere in the nation to monitor elections, with or without any one of these Voting Right Act sections. 

The sections up for renewal are unconstitutional, unnecessary and punitive.  Even old-time liberals crow that they were inserted to “punish” the states of the old Confederacy that voted in 1964 not for incumbent Johnson but for states’ rights Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act purely on constitutional grounds). 

Finally, here’s a question for radical black activists such as Jesse Jackson and the white “politically correct” liberal lobby:  Wouldn’t making Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act permanent–which they want—place blacks and Hispanics in a state of perpetual dependence on the federal government based on the concept that they are unable to protect their own rights and are incapable of participating fully in the democratic process?  How come that isn’t “racist”?


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