After hearing arguments yesterday, Supreme Court justices are debating changes to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Enacted to counter Jim Crow laws in predominately southern states, and extended in 2006 for 25 years, Provision 5 of the act calls for Justice Department approval of any changes in election procedure in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia (with the exception of 15 cities and counties that no longer have to submit changes for approval).
A lawsuit filed by Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One seeks to overturn the provision calling for federal oversight. Arguments from the Texas utility district board, following in the wake of the election of President Barack Obama, say that it is time to lift the requirement for federal approval. “Are Southerners more likely to discriminate than Northerners?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked Justice Department attorneys during the hearing, who are defending the law, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Questioning voting rights progress in southern states, Justice David Souter rejoined, “I don’t understand with a record like that how you can maintain ... that things have radically changed.”
A high profile case in St. Martinville pitted the town’s attempts at redistricting city voting districts against approval from the Justice Department. During the 1990s, elections were suspended for over a decade, from April 7, 1990, to April 6, 2002. The first election to take place after that period resulted in federal charges of voter fraud against a newly elected white councilwoman.
Jenell Chargois, state vice chair for the Acadiana district of the NAACP, says, “I think the provision needs to stay in place for a while. While Jim Crowism may not be as pronounced as it was, it still exists. Barack Obama is one man that was able to get elected based on the contents of his character. But until we can see a pattern of that, I don’t think those provisions should be up for discussion.”