WASHINGTON WATCH: Voting Rights Act And Voting Rights May Be Struck Down By The Supreme Court (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: Voting Rights Act And Voting Rights May Be Struck Down By The Supreme Court (VIDEO)

This past week, the Virginia state legislature passed a strict, new voter ID law. It has two more hurdles to get over before it becomes law. First, Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell could veto it. That’s not likely, as a new poll shows 75 percent of all Virginians in favor of voter ID.

The second line of defense is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. First passed in 1965, it requires states and counties with a history of race-based voter suppression to get any changes to their voting rules approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court; but that protection for voting rights may disappear this year, because in just a few days, the Supreme Court will hear a case seeking to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Based on previous Supreme Court opinions on this law, many legal experts fear it will be overturned, and one of the most significant guarantees of the rights of African-Americans could be wiped out.

Here to talk about what that means to your voting rights are Marcia Johnson-Blanco of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Law and Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project.

MR. MARTIN:  Hello and welcome to “Washington Watch.”

This week, the Virginia state legislature passed a strict, new voter ID law.  It has two more hurdles to get over before it becomes law.  First, Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell could veto it.  That’s not likely, as a new poll shows 75 percent of all Virginians in favor of voter ID.

The second line of defense is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  First passed in 1965, it requires states and counties with a history of race-based voter suppression to get any changes to their voting rules approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court; but that protection for voting rights may disappear this year, because in just a few days, the Supreme Court will hear a case seeking to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Based on previous Supreme Court opinions on this law, many legal experts fear it will be overturned, and one of the most significant guarantees of the rights of African-Americans could be wiped out.

Here to talk about what that means to your voting rights [are] Marcia Johnson-Blanco of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project.

Folks, welcome to “Washington Watch.”

MS. JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS:  Thanks.

MS. MARCIA JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Thanks.

MR. MARTIN:  Four years ago, the Supreme Court looked at Section 5 and affirmed it.  The fact that they’re looking at it four years later certainly gives considerable pause to folks who want to keep this intact.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  [It] certainly does.  Well, you know, what they did four years ago is they dodged the question.  They made an alternative claim and said jurisdictions could bail out, even though it wasn’t clear under statute they could.  But this time, they can’t dodge it.  They have to address the constitutionality of Section 5.

MS. DIANIS:  You know, conservatives have been coming after Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for a long time.  They want to see this part of the law taken out altogether; and it’s important for folks to know that, you know, at the end of the day, what Section 5 is is … a check and balance.  It prevents discrimination before it happens, so it’s a really important tool for us to stop discrimination in its tracks.

MR. MARTIN:  And … I often said that during the 2012 election, I thought that the efforts that many Republicans were going through to, frankly, disenfranchise voters … should actually help this case –

OFF CAMERA:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — because Republicans have always said, “Oh, no!  That stuff happened 50” –

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “years ago.”

I mean that stuff is now out of the window.  You saw, in many cases – Ohio, Florida, Texas, Alabama, other places during the 2012 election – where Section 5 really mattered.

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.  I mean we saw the voter ID law in Texas and South Carolina be stopped because of Section 5.  We know Section 5 helps us when it comes to redistricting, when we’re trying to draw the lines of power and, in fact, you know, try to make – you know, some Republicans trying to make sure that black folks don’t have any power –

MR. MARTIN:  Well –

MS. DIANIS:  — and –

MR. MARTIN:  — the case in Texas with those new congressional districts –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — where Hispanics said, “Wait a minute.  We’re the reasons for the population growth.  Republicans, you created all these new Republican districts.”

MS. DIANIS:  And if anything, we know that from 2011 and 2012, we actually need more protection than less.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Yeah, the Court actually found discriminatory intent in the Texas redistricting because of the Section 5 review, so Congress – you know, they’d like to say, “Oh, it’s 50 years old,” but the review Congress did was recent – in 2006.  That was recent.  And what happened since 2006 only shows why we need it even more – because of what we were just talking about.

MR. MARTIN:  Let’s move as if Section 5 doesn’t exist.  So, what then happens is a state, a county, a school board, or whatever – they make a change to the election procedures –

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  And we just have to sue them afterwards – right?

MS. DIANIS:  [Chuckles.]  So –

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  We have to let[?] –

MS. DIANIS:  — I mean part of the problem is that you want Section 5 because it’s the check up front.   Right?

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  We don’t want to be in a position where people, you know, are the victims of discrimination, discrimination happens in voting, and we have to fix it after the fact – because that already means that something has changed; that your right to vote has been impacted.  And so this really has been a preventative measure that we still need.

MR. MARTIN:  Can you really make a difference with Supreme Court justices?  Folks are going to have rallies this coming week.  … there’s been lots of attention.  You know, we’ve been talking about it on this show, really, for the last two years.  Can you really impact a Supreme Court decision?

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — well, I certainly would hope so, with the briefs that have been written – the amicus briefs – over 20 – talking about why [the] Voting Rights Act is really needed and the rally that’s going to be happening next Wednesday, showing that, yes, people care; and the Voting Rights Act is very important.  And it’s not just the rally in the Court, but then the caravan that’s going to be going down to Selma, where they’re going to be commemorating the Bloody Sunday march, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act.

So, hopefully, that would have an impact on the Court.  There’re strong arguments why it should be upheld, and people care.

MR. MARTIN:  So, you think that if there’s a significant public display across this country, that the Supreme Court justices watch news, will be seeing that and realize, “Hey, we might not want to mess with this.”

Judith?

MS. DIANIS:  Well, I mean part of what we’re doing is highlighting current-day discrimination, and the Court – that’s what they going – they have to see that, in fact, today people still care about this, there’s still a problem, and there’s still a need for Section 5.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, for the folks out there who’re trying to figure out “what do I do?” … what are some of the things that they can do right now – the general public who’re sitting at home, saying, “Man!  I want to make sure my voice is heard”?

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Well, they should definitely, you know, make sure that their members of Congress are speaking up about this, because when this was reauthorized it was unanimous in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House.  So, their members should be speaking out about … deference the Supreme Court has to pay to –

MR. MARTIN:  So, only –

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — Congress –

MR. MARTIN:  — 33 House members voted against reauthorization –

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  — which showed that you –

MS. DIANIS:  And – and – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — had members of Congress –

MS. DIANIS:  — and Republicans voted for this.  I mean, look.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Bipartisan.

MS. DIANIS:  President Bush – G.W. Bush was the one who signed it!  This was his civil rights credential.  And so, I think, even in states where there might be senators who are Republican, and you’re a Democrat, you need to call those Republican senators and remind them that there’s a need for it; that many of them signed it, and they stood by this law.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  If they’re local, show up for the rally.  There’re going to be rallies in Richmond, in Atlanta.  They should show up and make their voices heard – and not just for next Wednesday, but to keep talking about it, because the Supreme Court decision is not going to be out until June –

MR. MARTIN:  So, it’s oral arguments –

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — so –

MR. MARTIN:  — next week, which – is it Thursday?

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — Wednesday, the –

MS. DIANIS:  Wednesday —

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — 27th.

MS. DIANIS:  — the 27th.

MR. MARTIN:  On Wednesday, the 27th.  So, oral arguments then, but we expect the decision to come down in June.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  So, they need to still talk about this during that time and don’t think it’s just over –

MS. DIANIS:  Right.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  — on Wednesday.

MS. DIANIS:  And I think the other thing is beyond just Section 5, we have to reinvigorate our –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  — voting rights movement.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  It’s not just about this case.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DIANIS:  It’s about all of the laws that – I mean these laws are coming back.  Virginia, Arkansas – all looking at more voter ID laws.  We’re doing some work in Florida, where we’re actually going to have a right-to-vote bill that we’re putting forward that is Desiline Victor’s “Dream Bill,” because we want people to know that you have to be the protector of your right to vote.

MR. MARTIN:  You mentioned Desiline Victor.  She’s the 102-year-old woman from Florida –

MS. DIANIS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — at the State of the Union address.  We actually have a little tape with her at the State of the Union.

[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  When Desiline arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours….  And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, “I VOTED.”

[APPLAUSE.]

[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]

MR. MARTIN:  Actually, I flew in from Miami.  She was actually on the same plane; and, Judith, you also brought her to the White House.

MS. DIANIS:  Yes.  It was just a wonderful thing.  I mean her story really is the story of American voters, people who had to overcome barriers, but were committed to stand in line and to cast their ballot.  But at the end of the day, voting should be easy.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, then.  We certainly appreciate it; and, of course, we keep pushing it on this particular show here.  And you’re right.  It has to be a movement – not a moment.

Thanks a bunch.  We appreciate it.

MS. DIANIS:  Thanks.

MS. JOHNSON-BLANCO:  Well, thank you.