As Supreme Court Protects Fair Housing, Still Miles to Go on Voting Rights

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to undermine the housing law that was passed in Dr. King's memory. Yet it was hard to forget that last week also marked two years since the Court eviscerated the voting rights protections that activists like Dr. King and my father had given so much of their lives to achieve.
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Nearly 50 years ago, just days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in tribute to the slain civil rights leader. The housing law, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was an important step toward fulfilling the vision of a fair and free America to which Dr. King, my father, the late Rev. Dr. Robert C. Stovall, and so many others dedicated their lives.

Last week, then, was a bittersweet one for me. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the United States Supreme Court rejected an attempt to undermine the housing law that was passed in Dr. King's memory. Yet it was hard to forget that last week also marked two years since the Court eviscerated the voting rights protections that activists like Dr. King and my father had given so much of their lives to achieve.

In the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the Court's conservative Justices gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required the Justice Department or a federal court to approve changes to voting laws in areas with histories of discriminatory voting practices before those laws could go into effect, something that had, until recently, been a unified cause across party lines. They ruled that the Voting Rights Act had worked so well in preventing voting discrimination that important Section 5 preclearance requirements weren't needed anymore. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this was "like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." I could not agree more with Justice Ginsburg. It is vitally important that all of us stand firm in support of fixing the damage done by this decision.

The moment the Court handed down the decision, conservative legislatures got to work implementing more and more restrictive voting laws. And two years later, Congress has still failed to fix the broken VRA.

In the Fair Housing Act case Thursday, the Supreme Court -- in a decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by the four liberal dissenters to the VRA case -- acknowledged that we haven't finished the battles of the civil rights movement, and that just because there isn't explicit or intentional racial bias in our laws doesn't mean that racial injustice and even segregation are things of the past.

Let's take this decision as a shot of confidence as we work to restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure that we move forward, not backward, on the path paved by Dr. King.

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