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Voting Rights Act ruling: Alabama officials react

Source: U.S. Justice Dept. Source: U.S. Justice Dept.

The following are statements from different leaders and organizations in Alabama that have issued statements regarding the United States Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 4 of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Additions to this list are being added as statements are made public. Continue checking back.

Governor Robert Bentley:

"Alabama has made tremendous progress over the past 50 years, and this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that progress.  We will not tolerate discrimination in Alabama.

"Fifty years ago, there were valid reasons this law was passed.  But even though conditions changed over time, the Section 4 test of the Voting Rights Act did not.  As Chief Justice Roberts said when he delivered the Supreme Court's opinion, ‘history did not end in 1965,' and ‘history since 1965 cannot be ignored.'  Further, he said, ‘The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.'

"The ruling also notes that the Tenth Amendment ‘reserves to the States all powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government, including "the power to regulate elections."'  And the ruling continues to say, ‘There is also a "fundamental principle of equal sovereignty" among the States, which is highly pertinent in assessing disparate treatment of States.'  Also, the ruling says, ‘The Voting Rights Act sharply departs from these basic principles.  It requires States to beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own.'

"Today's ruling is historic.  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."

Secretary of State Beth Chapman

Secretary of State Beth Chapman said today's US Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act is a pivotal time in Alabama's election history. The decision came from a court case from Shelby County which made its way to the top court in the nation.

While there was no ruling on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act itself, the Court held that Congress must revise the formula located in Section 4 used to determine which states must have every change to election laws approved by the United States Department of Justice. 

Alabama has been one of nine states since the mid 1960's who had to pre-clear all changes to their voting procedures with the US Department of Justice. 

"We are not the same state we were decades ago and I am glad that the majority of the Supreme Court recognizes that fact," Chapman said. "Alabama has made great progress in our elections process."

There still exists a provision of the Voting Rights Act where issues of discrimination can be prosecuted.

"If there is a time or circumstance where a voter feels there has been any discrimination regarding the elections process, then Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act will provide a way for that case to be heard as it should," Chapman said.

"Chief Justice Roberts and a majority of the court recognize the Alabama of today is not the Alabama of the past.  We will continue to provide fair and honest elections for all citizens."  Chapman said.

Attorney General Luther Strange

Attorney General Luther Strange calls a ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, "an important victory for the fundamental constitutional principle that all states enjoy equal sovereignty."

In a 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress's 2006 reauthorization of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Section 4 set a formula for determining which jurisdictions would be "covered" and thus require preclearance from federal bureaucrats before making any changes to voting laws. The criteria for determining whether a county or state was a covered jurisdiction had remained unchanged for almost half a century.

The State of Alabama authored and filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case. The brief argued that "in 2013, there should not be the Uncovered States of America and the Covered States of America." Although Section 4 was constitutional when it was passed nearly fifty years ago, the brief noted, "Alabama has a new generation of leaders with no connection to the tragic events of 1965." The brief explained that the preclearance requirements "undermine good government" and make it "substantially more difficult for Alabama's leaders to achieve important, much-needed reforms."

Attorney General Strange praises the court for holding that the coverage formula no longer makes sense: "The Supreme Court today rightly recognized that Alabama and other covered jurisdictions could not be treated unequally based on things that happened decades ago. The important protections of Section 2 of the Voting Rights remain in place, preserving for all citizens the right to challenge discriminatory laws in court. At the same time, I am proud that the nation's highest court recognizes the important progress made over the last fifty years, and I commend the court for its decision."

Attorney General Strange continued: "My office will continue to review the opinion and its implications.  At this time, our initial conclusion is that Alabama is no longer subject to the preclearance requirements under Section 5.  We expect significant savings for Alabama taxpayers because neither the State nor local governments will have to expend time, money and effort on submitting routine changes to voting laws to Washington, D.C., for approval."

"Alabama will only be subject to the preclearance process if Congress adopts a new coverage formula that includes Alabama," Attorney General Strange stated. "But let me be clear, I do not believe Alabama should be included under any new coverage formula that Congress might adopt. As the Court rightly points out, minority participation in voting is in fact higher in Alabama and many other covered jurisdictions than it is in many non-covered jurisdictions. " 

The State of Alabama's amicus brief can be found here. Attorney General Strange's op-ed, appearing in USA TODAY on February 26, 2013, can be found here.

Alabama Republican Party

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead issued the following statement regarding the Supreme Court's decision to rule Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional:

"The Supreme Court's decision today to rule Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act Unconstitutional is a testament to how far we have come as a state and as a nation in the area of fair and free elections. Attorney General Eric Holder should not have the power to play political games with the voting laws in Alabama and thanks to the courage of Shelby County; he no longer has that power. "

"Minority voting in Alabama has been higher in years past than in some areas that weren't subject to pre-clearance. That goes to show that Alabama has come a long way since 1965 and as a result deserves better treatment than it has been given for nearly 50 years" said Armistead.

Representative Darrio Melton (D-Selma)

"The people of Alabama--and the people of Selma--know what it took to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and they will know what it takes to protect the right to vote today. 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."

Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma)

State Senator Hank Sanders sat down for an interview with WSFA 12 News. Senator Sanders explained that when the decision came down he said, "Oh, this is the worst of all possible was a terrible blow."

Senator Sanders explained that "without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it just doesn't mean very much."

Sanders said all attention now needs to be focused on Congress to get them to address the issues the Supreme Court raised and said he felt the decision was more political than a legal decision.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R)

Currently no statement available.

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R)

"Today's decision is an affirmation by the Supreme Court that Shelby County, Alabama, and other areas of the nation have made tremendous progress from the dark days of racial discrimination and abuse in years past. The Court's decision effectively recognizes that the protections contained in the Voting Rights Act have been successful in changing attitudes and ending systematic abuse and discrimination at the polls.

The decision also implies that the U.S. Congress should only pass laws that apply uniformly throughout the nation.  As the Court's decision today demonstrates, this legislation has been successful in accomplishing its goals of ending these practices and I am proud that Alabama has made historic progress to protect the rights of its citizens."

U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R- District 2)

"The rule of law ensures fairness and protects the rights of everybody. Basically the court said today that, because this law doesn't reflect modern realities, it can't be fairly enforced. That makes sense because the American South today isn't what it was 50 years ago. What may have been needed to ensure fairness in the 1960s can now be the source of significant unfairness and disparity within the electoral system."

- Roby spokesman Todd Stacy

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R- District 3)

Currently no statement available.

U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus (R- District 6)

"Congressman Bachus is reviewing the full ruling and all of the opinions.  He said one initial point to make is that the decision applies to the ‘pre-clearance' provisions of the Voting Right Act and does not prevent challenges to discriminatory practices.  Congressman Bachus believes it is essential that the voting rights of all are properly protected, but also believes there should be a recognition of the positive civil rights progress in Alabama and our nation since the enactment of the original law."

- Bachus spokesman Tim Johnson

U.S. Representative Terri Sewell (D- District 7)

Representative Terry Sewell spoke with WSFA 12 News via telephone.  Rep. Sewell, a native of Selma, called the Supreme Court's decision "Disappointing and a major setback for voting rights in this country...."

Rep. Sewell said the Supreme Court ignored more than 15,000 pages of evidence gathered by Congress before it reauthoritized the VRA in 2006 that proved the act is still needed.

Sewell said she hopes to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to come up with new formulas to protect the right to vote by all minorities.

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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