03.09.09

Comment On Supreme Court Opinion In Bartlett v. Strickland

“Just after the 44th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday,’ the Supreme Court’s decision in Bartlett v. Strickland has dealt a serious blow to the progress of the civil rights movement through its cramped reading of the historic Voting Rights Act.”

“Congress intended with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to enable racial minorities to participate in the political life of our democracy.  Today’s plurality decision is based on a limited reading of the Act, and instead uses the guarantees of the VRA to reduce the number of districts where racial minorities are likely to be elected and to limit the ability of affected minority voters to bring claims.  As Congress reaffirmed in its recent nearly unanimous reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act,  this landmark law is meant to continue the historic expansion of inclusion and openness in our Democracy.  The Supreme Court’s decision today is a step in the wrong direction.

“As Justice Souter noted is his dissent, the result of the plurality’s ruling, is that it has ‘eliminated  the protection of Section 2 for the districts that best vindicate the goals of the statute, and has done all it can to force the States to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.’  He wrote: ‘If districts with minority populations under 50% can never count as minority opportunity districts to remedy a violation of the States’ obligation to provide equal electoral opportunity under Section 2, States will be required under the plurality’s rule to pack black voters into additional majority-minority districts, contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions in securing their preferred representation.’ 

“Throughout its history, the United States has made significant strides toward a more inclusive democracy, amending the Constitution and passing civil rights laws to ensure that all Americans enjoy equal protection under the law and the ability to fairly elect their own representatives.  The Supreme Court’s decision today threatens to undermine those goals.”

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