Statement of Juan Cartagena Denouncing the Supreme Court Decision Striking Down Part of the Voting Rights Act


Media Contacts: LatinoJustice PRLDEF – John Garcia, (212) 739-7513

The Supreme Court today eviscerated the most effective sections of the Voting Rights Act in a decision that will roll back the critically important gains made by Latinos in Section 5 jurisdictions, potentially halting their rising political power. In a 5-4 split decision the Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, ruled that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the VRA, which undergirds Section 5, was unconstitutional.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF Amicus Brief in Shelby County v. Holder

Section 4 details the formula used for deciding which states and jurisdictions with histories of voting discrimination are prevented from enforcing changes to their election procedures until the changes have been reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a federal court through a process called preclearance. The Court found that the VRA's present formula for deciding which jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance is unconstitutional, because while the formula was rational in the 1960s, it's not anymore. In other words, things are so different today that it justifies overturning decades of court decisions.

“Ignoring overwhelming evidence of ongoing discrimination in voting today, a majority of the Supreme Court today dismissed thousands of pages of testimony in one of the most extensive congressional records ever to support federal legislation, in a brazen act of judicial activism. Congress apparently has no constitutionally protected role in enforcing the anti-discrimination guarantees of the 14th and 15th Amendments,” says Juan Cartagena, President General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“Section 5 protections exist in the largest four states with Latino populations: California, Texas, New York and Florida. Make no mistake about it. This decision rolls back these protections at a time when the mid-term elections in 2014 will be a signal of the growing political clout Latino voters will exercise. We will now have to prepare to fight off multiple attempts to stop and derail the Latino vote.

“To that end, we ask that President Obama and Attorney General Holder invest additional resources in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice to ward off what will be an avalanche of regressive voting laws. Similarly, we ask the Attorney Generals in New York and elsewhere that stood with us to support Section 5 to stand with us again to ward off these proposed laws. Finally, we call upon Congress to re-energize its efforts to secure amendments to the Voting Rights Act that overturn this decision,” noted Cartagena.

Section 5 of the VRA has been an effective tool for LatinoJustice PRLDEF to combat voter discrimination. In the 1980s it was used to halt New York City primary elections in total because of a failure to obtain preclearance of discriminatory city council redistricting plans. In recent years LatinoJustice PRLDEF has used Section 5 to impact voting changes in Hillsborough County, Florida where we’ve worked with Latino voters in Tampa, and in New York City where we shaped the New York State Senate, Assembly and New York City Council redistricting plans through our Unity Plan efforts.

The Unity Plans were the product of coordinated advocacy and legal analysis by the City’s top Latino, African-American and Asian-American voting rights attorneys and political activists that used the leverage of Section Five to create positive change for all protected minorities.

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