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Protect Section Five

By Dr. E. Faye Williams
Trice Edney News Wire

One of the most confusing, recurring Internet stories is the admonishment to protect the expiring 1965 Voting Rights Act. The last time that happened was in 2006 when the VRA was extended by Congress to 2031. When the law was extended, most African Americans breathed a sigh of relief and put concern for the law on the shelf — at least for 25 years.

Enter Shelby County, Ala. Shelby is exercising its privilege to challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act — at least Section 5 of the law. On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, which requires pre-clearance from the federal government before states can take action that might dilute the Black vote. If found constitutional, Section 5 would not be questioned again and remain in effect until 2031.

Section 5 was originally put into place in states that historically and specifically had laws hindering the Black vote. These were the states that had the insidious reputation for a test or device restricting the opportunity to register and vote. States currently under Section 5 include Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Notoriously, African American voters in these (and other) states were prevented from registering to vote or voting based upon race-based obstruction. Examples of questions asked of African Americans in Alabama included: Naming all 67 county judges in the state, naming the date on which Oklahoma was admitted to the Union and declaring how many bubbles are in a bar of soap. There were, of course, exceptions for whites preventing their requirement to test.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, who represents Alabama’s 23rd Senate District (Selma), believes Section 5 has been called into question because of President Barack Obama’s political success. If Section 5 is declared unconstitutional, states would have the power to dilute the Black vote through redistricting. As illustrated by the recent redistricting efforts of Republican legislators in Virginia, if Section 5 is declared unconstitutional, the repercussions of such a decision would be regressive and more widespread than in those few states where it’s now enforced.

Let’s be clear. The Republican message has proven incapable of garnering sufficient support to win a race at the national level. I don’t know if their indignity is piqued by losing the presidency to the same Democrat twice or whether they seem irrationally incensed because that Democrat is African American. Whatever the reason, before and after the November 2012 Election, Republicans have shown their inclination and willingness to subvert the intent and spirit of the Constitution to gain a political advantage.

We’ve seen the overt efforts of the Republican Ohio Secretary of State to disenfranchise African American voters with the disparate application of voting laws and the orchestration of the reduction of early voting opportunities. We witnessed the Republican governor of Florida unsuccessfully engage in voter obstruction efforts designed to have the effect of reducing the impact and number of African American and Hispanic voters. We viewed the televised statement of the Pennsylvania Republican Party Chair when he declared that the voter identification law passed in that state would guarantee a Romney victory in Pennsylvania. Recently, we were informed that the Republican-run Virginia Senate used political trickery to gerrymander a new pro-Republican district in their state. There is no question about the Republican assault against our vote.

The immediate question that most readers of this column will ask is, “What can I do?”

The Supreme Court will hear the case for Section 5 on Feb. 27. I am asking that you show your concern by joining us in front of the Supreme Court at 10 a.m. that day to demonstrate (to the Justices) the significance of their decision.

Dr. E. Faye Williams is chair of the National Congress of Black Women. For more information, visit www.nationalcongressbw.org or call 202.678.6788.

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