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Court's decision turns back decades of voting progress

With its June 25 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has rolled back the protections of a fundamental civil rights law that has preserved voting rights for millions of Americans, AFT president Randi Weingarten says.

"For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act has enshrined the right to free and fair elections in our country," she says. "Sadly, this is a decision that makes you shake your head and ask: Does the Court majority live in the same world that we do—how can they be so out of touch with the real-life efforts to suppress voting that are happening right now?

"In his opinion for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Roberts conveniently ignores the recent history of voter suppression efforts. The tests and devices that blocked ballot access in the 1960s may be largely gone, but 21st-century tactics to disenfranchise Americans—restrictive voter ID laws, outcome-driven redistricting, limiting voting hours and opportunities, and spreading misinformation about polling places and times—still disproportionately impact African-American, Latino, immigrant and low-income voters, as well as students and seniors.

"The Voting Rights Act is necessary to ensure that our aspirations for a stronger democracy are a reality for all voters. It is a proven tool to ensure voters in covered jurisdictions are not deprived of their fundamental right to vote and to have their vote counted. We can only imagine what assaults on that right will be unleashed without this law in force.

"In 2006, when it reauthorized the pre-clearance sections of the law that the court invalidates today, Congress took note of the voluminous evidence of continuing voter discrimination. It now becomes essential that Congress take new action to ensure the efficacy of the Voting Rights Act. We do not want future generations of students to read in their history textbooks about how we, in 2013, turned the clock back on decades of progress." [AFT press release]

June 26, 2013