A group of civil rights activists and lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court this morning as the nine justices inside debated the merits of Shelby County v. Holder.
“The right to vote must be for all Americans,” Pelosi said standing on the steps of the Supreme Court.
The case deals with the constitutionality of the pre-clearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and since renewed by Congress, most recently in 2006. Currently, all or parts of 16 states, including Alabama, Texas and Virginia, must have any voting rights changes – including redistricting map proposals – approved by the Justice Department or the D.C. District Court before they can be enacted.
“I stand before you steadfast in the belief that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is needed now more than ever,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) declared during the rally.
Among the protestors outside the Supreme Court today were employees from the SpiritHouse Project, a non-profit organization that fights for social justice.
Jhavia Etheridge, a SpiritHouse Project intern, shouted to the crowd, “We will not stand by quietly while our voting rights are threatened!”
SpiritHouse Founder Ruby Sales was also introduced during the rally, calling out to the protestors, “White supremacy is alive and well today.”
Despite these claims, Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister insists that Shelby county isn’t “the county or the state we used to be and pre-clearances are not necessary anymore.”
“It’s almost offensive to me,” Fuhrmeister told Red Alert Politics. “What we are described in the media is not who we are.”
While the provision was designed to stop racial discrimination in voting, the Shelby County government wants to drop Section 5, deeming it to be “unconstitutional and a permanent injunction against their enforcement.”
Their suit does not challenge the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, however.
“The Shelby County elections are very serious about giving every registered voter the opportunity to vote,” Fuhrmeister said.
Ironically, President Obama was across the street from the Supreme Court at the U.S. Capitol unveiling a statue of the late Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist. The president has reportedly said that if these states and townships no longer were required to go through the Justice Department or federal judges, “It would be hard for us to catch those things up front to make sure that elections are done in an equitable way.”
The Supreme Court appears to be sharply divided over the case, with moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy likely to be the crucial swing vote. A decision on the case is expected in late June.