The Supreme Court struck a severe blow to voting rights across the nation, effectively rolling us back to a time when discriminatory voting laws flourished. The impact of its decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder on voters will be significant and far-reaching. For decades, millions of eligible voters have been protected from racial discrimination in voting by the Voting Rights Act through the requirement that certain states and counties with a history of such discrimination have preclearance by the Justice Department before implementing changes to their voting laws.
In 2006, a bipartisan Congress conducted numerous hearings with dozens of witnesses and masses of documentation that proved discrimination against certain minorities still existed, thus convincing them to reaffirm the VRA for another 25 years. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department had blocked over 700 voting changes found to be discriminatory. Until today, the Supreme Court upheld the VRA four times.
Montana is not one of those states that have needed preclearance for voting rights changes, but the VRA has certainly been somewhat of a deterrent to those who would like to make it more difficult for minority groups to vote here. Over the past two legislative sessions, we have seen legislators propose many bills that would make it more difficult, if not impossible for minority groups to register and to vote. This decision by the Court should be a great call to action by those of us who believe in free and fair access by every eligible voter.
Nancy Detrick, president
League of Women Voters of Montana