The voting rights struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, marked the beginning of a steady march of progress toward true electoral democracy. Yet 50 years later, we see that progress reversing dramatically since the Shelby v. Holder decision of June 25, 2013. In that decision, the Supreme Court gutted the "pre-clearance" provisions of the Voting Rights Act and legitimized discriminatory and anti-democratic policy changes in 33 states.
The Shelby decision strengthened and codified a multi-pronged assault on voting rights already underway by legislatures since 2010 -- not just in the South but also in red states in every other region of the country. These attacks, a coordinated political coup led by the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Tea Party, are a thinly veiled conspiracy to suppress progressive and liberal voters, especially voters of color. In the 2016 primaries we began to see the results as discriminatory voter roll purges and ID laws suppressed voting in Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and many other states, portending a highly manipulated result in the November elections.
In May, a group of Congress members organized to fight back, launching a new Voting Rights Caucus, the first official congressional organization devoted to the cause of defending electoral democracy. Now 71 Representatives strong, the caucus is made up predominately of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
A main objective of the new caucus is to force Congress to take up the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 2867). Introduced in 2015 by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama), the bill seeks to restore pre-clearance Section 5 provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Regions with ugly histories of racial discrimination -- nine states and more than 60 counties -- previously had to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes to their voting laws. The conservative Supreme Court majority struck down pre-clearance on the bizarre proposition that it was no longer needed because the Voting Rights Act had been "working well."
In her sharp dissent of Shelby, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that destroying preclearance is like "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."