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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

AFJ President Nan Aron's speech to the Voting Rights Act rally

At this hour AFJ President Nan Aron is scheduled to address a rally in front of the Supreme Court in support of the Voting Rights Act.  This is the text of her remarks:

This is an extraordinarily important day for our country. The fate of one of the most vital tools ever created for political and social justice in America is being argued inside this Court.

At stake are the fundamental rights of millions of people of color, but also the integrity of our democracy and our willingness as a society to fulfill the promise of equality for every American.
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to correct the blatant discrimination that prevented millions of Americans from exercising the most fundamental right in a democracy – the right to vote and choose the people who make our laws.

Today, in 2013, much has changed, but much remains to be done. No one who watched the concerted efforts to disenfranchise people of color in the last election can doubt that simple fact. The job is not yet done. We have not yet reached the end of the road.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act must continue as a viable tool for the protection of fundamental rights. It must remain in place if we are to preserve the gains made in the decades since the law was passed. Without it, we will inevitably slide backward into an era of deliberate voter suppression.

History has shown that the great power of this law is that it prevents discrimination from occurring in the first place. It doesn’t rely on challenges after elections have already occurred, when it’s too late. It not only stops discriminatory plans from taking effect, it deters them from being proposed at all.

Time and again during the 2012 election, we saw the value of the Voting Rights Act in action – in Texas, and Florida, and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Court needs to understand that with the job half done and threats to the right to vote still fresh in our memories from the last election, Section 5 must be preserved.

Congress recognized this in 2006 when, backed by enormous amounts of evidence, it reauthorized the law by a unanimous vote in the Senate and by a vote of 390-33 in the House. The Constitution and, in particular, the 15th Amendment, say that it is the job of Congress to figure out how to prevent racial discrimination in voting. It would be an egregious step by this Court to shove aside Congress’ judgment and substitute its own. 

There is an unspoken covenant between the Court and the American people that it will respect the great American journey toward a better, more just society. That it will take us forward, not backward. No modern Court has ever struck down a cornerstone civil rights law. And, with the whole world watching, it should not -- and must not -- happen now.

We all wish we lived in a world where Section 5 is no longer necessary, but we are not there yet. To dismantle this tool for justice at a time when concerted efforts to suppress voting and disenfranchise people of color are on the upswing would represent a willful denial of the hard realities of life in America in 2013.

Ironically, today a statue honoring Rosa Parks is being dedicated in the Capitol Building. On the same day we erect a monument to hard-won rights, we should not contemplate the dismantling of the very law that protects those rights.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act must be preserved and this case must be won.  Thank you.

Later this afternoon on Justice Watch: Four legal scholars analyze today's oral arguments.

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