voter discrimination

'Fighting Words' from the Supreme Court

President Johnson hands Martin Luther King Jr. one of the pens used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.

BACK IN THE day, when Stevie Wonder was Wishing “those days could come back once more,” my 6-, 7-, and 8-year-old friends and I had no idea what the heck he was talking about, but we loved the groove and would blast Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album from our front steps as we played in front of my house in our West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Sometimes the boys would coast down the street on handmade skateboards, literally made of old skates—the kind with wheels you strapped to your shoes—nailed to short wooden planks. Sometimes the girls and boys would race each other down a steep street, flying at lightning speed on bikes and boards, to see who could make it first to the candy shop at the bottom of the hill. And sometimes, in all the play, a verbal sparring match would break out:         

“You so big,” one friend would say, “it take two showerheads to clean yo big butt in the morning!” Then the 7-year-old sparring partner would come back: “Oh, yeah?! You so ugly, yo mama say ‘What dat?’ when she give birth to you!”

It would keep going and we’d all laugh out loud until someone got inappropriate. Usually inappropriateness began with three words: “Yo mama so ...” We all knew to never bring someone’s mother into the sparring match unless you wanted to fight for real. Those were fighting words.

This summer the Supreme Court got inappropriate. They spewed fighting words on the playground that is our national public square.

In the case of Shelby County, Alabama, vs. Holder, the court issued a 5-to-4 ruling that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 is the section that identifies the states which, because of historical racialized bias, must obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before making any changes to their voting laws or districts.

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Voting Rights Act Challenge: The Fight Continues

Richard Ellis/Getty Images
President of the South Carolina NAACP speaks at a rally in support of the Voting Rights Act. Richard Ellis/Getty Images

I was on the airplane, looking forward to reading Taylor Branch’s new book, The King Years: Historical Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. As I opened my Kindle, I realized that it offered large excerpts of Branch’s previous works, and was glad that while I have the other books in hard cover, I had these stories in my Kindle. But as I re-read some of the accounts, I realized that my 40-something-old self reacted differently than when I first read some of the accounts when I was 20-something. My younger self yearned to know: How did they organize? How did they deal with differing motives and different movements? And I yearned to believe that I, too, would have sacrificed my being for “The Movement.”

My late 40-something-old self read these words as a mother — as someone who understood the fury of the parents who were scared as their children sacrificed their very lives for justice’s sake.

AG Eric Holder, Black Church Leaders Mull Voter Law Changes

 RNS photo courtesy Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice
Attorney General Eric Holder, RNS photo courtesy Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice

Attorney General Eric Holder and other legal experts strategized with black religious leaders May 30 about new restrictive state voting laws that could affect their congregants by reducing early voting and requiring identification.

“I would argue that of all the freedoms we have today, none is more important or more sacred than the right to vote,” Holder told about 200 people gathered for a meeting of the Conference of National Black Churches and the Congressional Black Caucus.

He acknowledged concerns about new voting laws and said his department has launched more than 100 investigations about racially discriminatory voting practices.

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