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Voting Rights Act

A color-blind society should be part of the vision of every American.

To suggest, however, that the nation has reached that point and that, therefore, we no longer need legal safeguards for minorities is to be blind to the realities that continue to exist in the United States.

For example, it’s failing to see that the Voting Rights Act, approved in 1965 by Congress and subsequently reauthorized four times by that same body, remains a vital, and necessary civil rights protection.

To argue otherwise, as is being done before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, refuses to acknowledge that discrimination — particularly attempts to discriminate against voters because of the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage — remains a substantial issue that calls for federal intervention.

At the core of this case is “Section 5” of the act. Currently, nine states and voting districts in seven other states need to get Justice Department approval before changing their voting laws. That OK is dependent upon proof that the changes won’t harm the ability and rights of black Americans and other minorities to vote.

Despite evidence that shows minority voters continue to face discrimination in these places to this very day, arguments are being made that this protection is no longer needed.

Sadly, there are justices who appear ready to agree with those arguments.

Most conspicuous Wednesday was Justice Antonin Scalia, who said that Section 5 is “a perpetuation of racial entitlement” and that senators, despite a 98-0 vote in 2006 to reauthorize the act, did so based upon political correctness.

“I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act,” he opined. “. . . They are going to lose votes if they do not re-enact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”

We know that Justice Scalia didn’t speak with each individual senator to get their true reason for backing the act to the extent of keeping Section 5 intact. Had he done so, he probably would have found that most based their vote on the evidence presented that discrimination in voting continues to exist ... evidence that he is ignoring.

If Scalia or any of the other justices were worried about the act’s relevancy, they need only to know that the Justice Department has, in fact, recently used Section 5 in preventing attempts to discriminate using new voter ID laws.

Blind justice is expected to be objective and impartial, but it should not be based upon ignorance. Failing to see that the Voting Rights Act, including Section 5, is still is important to the health and well-being of a sizeable portion of the nation’s electorate will only lead us back to a place we need to leave behind.

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