Voting Rights Act decision: AL lawmakers’ reactions split down political, racial lines

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The US Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.  (USA Today, Tim Dillon)

The US Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. (USA Today, Tim Dillon)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act split Alabama politicians down political and racial lines Tuesday, with many white Republicans praising the Supreme Court’s move and many black Democrats condemning it.

The high court ruled 5-4 that Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, credited with ending nearly a century of voting discrimination in Alabama and other states, was unconstitutional. The section sets out a means of determining which state and local governments are subject to preclearance of voting law changes by the U.S. Department of Justice; the high court said Sction 4 relied on data over 40 years old, and did not account for changes in racial attitudes since then.

In reactions Tuesday, Republicans frequently invoked Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement that ‘History did not end in 1965,’ and said the state had moved on from its Jim Crow past. Democrats, however, invoked that history, and said the decision could harm minority voters.

Attorney General Luther Strange testifying before the U.S. Congress in July 2011.

Attorney General Luther Strange testifying before the U.S. Congress in July 2011.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, a Republican, called Tuesday’s decision “a major victory for Shelby County, the state of Alabama and other states covered by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.”

“We expect significant savings to Alabama taxpayers, because neither state nor local governments will have to expend time, money or effort to submit routine changes to voting laws to DC for approval,” he said. Strange said he did not have exact estimates on what the costs were; his office said later they would be able to move staff attorneys whose work includes preclearance matters to other issues.

Gov. Robert Bentley called the ruling possibly “the most significant of my lifetime.”

“Today’s ruling is historic,” the governor said in a statement. “It reflects how conditions have improved since 1965. And as Chief Justice Roberts also said, this ruling returns us to the principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty.”

That was not what black lawmakers took away from the decision.

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile (Amanda Sowards/ Montgomery Advertiser)

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile (Amanda Sowards/ Montgomery Advertiser)

“In a year that marks the 50th anniversary of many milestones in the Civil Rights Movement, the Supreme Court’s decision dealt voters a huge setback to justice by essentially eliminating the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act,” Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said in a statement. “This is a total injustice and another tactic to suppress the minority vote.”

Democratic Rep. Darrio Melton of Selma, where 1965’s “Bloody Sunday” proved a catalyst for the law, said in a statement that “the people of Alabama, and of Selma” knew the costs of defending the law.

“The decision by the Supreme Court is a slap in the face to all those who marched and bleed to ensure our fundamental right to vote,” the statement said.

Strange said he would work against any discriminatory practices at the polls.

“I want to reassure all the voters of our state, black and white and all minority voters, that nothing has changed with the importance of the right to vote,” Strange said. “We’re going to ensure that everyone has right to vote and they’re not discriminated against in any way.”

– posted by Brian Lyman

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