Voting Rights Act provision overturned: What does it mean? - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Voting Rights Act provision overturned: What does it mean?

Lloyd Johnson Lloyd Johnson

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But there's debate on whether it puts all states on equal footing or puts some voters at a disadvantage.

The ruling throws out the old formula for deciding which state and local governments have to get Justice Department approval before making changes election laws.

Those states mostly were in the South.

Congress passed the law to remove obstacles to voting, like one retired Savannah attorney and Civil Rights Leader Lloyd Johnson faced when he went to register to vote in 1954. The registrar asked for his junior high school diploma.

"I had just graduated from Howard University," Johnson said. "I had my class ring. I just very proudly had it. And the woman looked at me and said, 'Oh anybody can get one of those,' and told me that I had to take a literacy test."

That was in Brooklyn, New York, when black leaders first were being elected to that borough's offices. Johnson was deeply disappointed by the court's decision Tuesday.

But those who agree with the court point to progress over the past 48 years and say voting issues aren't a uniquely Southern problem.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson pointed to that state's current elected leaders.

"You have an Indian female governor," he said. "You have an African American United States senator. You have an African American congressman. South Carolina is not perfect, but it's come a long way. The standard used in '64 is an antiquated standard. And all we want to do is, if you're going to hold us accountable, use new data. Use new numbers that are going to apply equally to everyone."

The Supreme Court has left it up to Congress to come up with new rules to decide which states need Justice Department approval to change election laws.

Given deep divides in Congress, that may be unlikely right now.

In his written opinion, Savannah's own Clarence Thomas argued Tuesday's decision doesn't go far enough, that the court should have done away altogether with Justice Department approval to election laws.

Johnson echoed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who delivered the dissenting opinion from the bench. Ginsberg and Johnson quoting Martin Luther King.

"'The moral arc of (the universe) is long, but it lends itself toward justice, provided that there's a sustained commitment to that end,'" Johnson said. "And this marks the end of that commitment by our Supreme Court."

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