On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court made a disturbing ruling that could be a major setback to voters’ rights and voter protections. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional for purposes of identifying the jurisdictions that must submit voting changes for federal review (pre-clearance) before they can be implemented. Section 4(b) is also referred to as the coverage formula. While many experts were braced for the Court to find Section 5 (pre-clearance) unconstitutional, ruling Section 4(b) unconstitutional effectively makes Section 5 “toothless” unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula.
While the issue of voters’ rights is a priority social justice concern for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the Voters Rights Act of 1965 is of particular interest to NASW. Whitney M. Young, Jr., one of the country’s key civil rights leaders who fought for, and eventually won passage of the Voters Rights Act of 1965, also served as NASW President from 1969 to 1971.
Given its history as a frontline leader in the fight for civil rights, NASW has a strong and unyielding commitment to the continued protection of one of America’s most fundamental rights. Chief Justice Roberts, in his opinion, acknowledged that the country still has racial discrimination. Yet, the Court’s decision on Section 4(b) will likely lead to many discriminatory voter suppression laws in states that have histories of voting rights violations. The Court also ignored the fact that Congress had reauthorized the Voters Rights Act in 2006 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The Supreme Court’s decision on June 25, 2013, suggested that it is left to Congress to develop a new formula that replaces the one in Section 4(b) that the Court found unconstitutional. NASW urges Congress to move quickly to rework Section 4(b). NASW is committed to restoring this critical protection and will actively work with our coalition partners to this end.
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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with nearly 140,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.