The Supreme Court is expected to soon announce its decision on a case which many Latino organizations are closely watching – whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires covered states and counties to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any voting changes. NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams says this is “the most potent part of a law widely considered the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.”
National civil rights organizations like the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Council of la Raza, the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, argue that Section 5 has kept some counties and states from establishing voting laws or guidelines that make it more difficult for Latinos and other minorities to vote. Last year civil rights groups took issue with proposed voting laws in Texas and Florida which would have required stricter voter ID or would have limited early voting days, for example. Civil rights groups said these laws would have made it more difficult for Latinos and African-Americans to vote.
Benny Agosto, immediate past president of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), says striking down Section 5 “would take the teeth out and loosen the bite of the law,” arguing that through Section 5 groups like MALDEF and HNBA fought proposed redistricting and voter ID laws in Texas which would have resulted in fewer Latinos participating in the electoral process. “Those kinds of issues were litigated because of Section 5,” says Agosto.
Shelby County, Alabama filed suit against the federal government in Shelby v Holder, arguing that the South is not the way it was almost 50 years ago. Some Latino Republican legislators agree. “Right now, Texas is subjected to different standards than much of the country,” said Senator Ted Cruz, who like others in the Texas GOP, have argued for the law to be struck down. These legislators say the issues with discrimination which may have applied decades ago are no longer the case.
But other Latino legislators, like Texas state representative Trey Martinez Fischer, say that Section 5 was what kept Texas from enacting a restrictive voter ID requiring driver’s licenses and other documents which would have kept Latinos from the ballot box.
“When Texas enacted the law, over 795,000 Texans were registered to vote who did not have driver’s licenses, and of these 38 percent had Spanish surnames,” said Fischer, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus,(MALC). ”If enacted, that would have been three-quarters of a million Latinos who would not have been able to vote,” Martinez Fischer says, adding that Texas was put under federal Voting Rights Act jurisdiction in the 70s “when Latinos were forced to vote with English-only ballots.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in Shelby v Holder as early as today – and before the end of June.