Washington — The Supreme Court’s June 25 decision striking down key elements of a longstanding law protecting minority voting rights touched a chord with the Jewish community which has strongly supported the law although its direct impact on Jewish voters has been marginal.
Jewish organizations decried the court’s 5-to-4 ruling, which deemed part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruling gutted the law’s requirement that certain states and districts with a previous history of discrimination receive pre-clearance from the federal government before making any changes to election procedures or voting laws.
“We are extremely disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The ruling, he argued, “effectively overturns the nation’s longstanding commitment to protecting the voting rights of all citizens.”
The Religious Action Center was among several Jewish groups that joined a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights in support of maintaining all provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Symbolically, a plaque mounted on the wall of the RAC’s headquarters in Washington notes that the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were written in the building, a reflection of the close cooperation between the Jewish community and the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.
The American Jewish Committee, which also joined the amicus brief in favor of VRA, condemned the decision. Marc Stern, the group’s general counsel, said that while the ruling only struck down certain parts of the landmark civil rights law, it “will harm the ability of all citizens, of whatever race, to vote.”
The court, which issued its decision in response to a case brought by Shelby County, Alabama against the Justice Department, ruled that the criteria for subordinating states to the Voting Rights Act were based on outdated information.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”