East Hawaii News

Hawaii Lawmakers Denounce Supreme Court Decision

June 25, 2013, 11:20 AM HST
* Updated June 25, 11:21 AM
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Hawaii lawmakers in Congress called today’s ruling by the Supreme Court a major setback for minority voting rights.

The court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which required that some states with a history of voting discrimination get federal approval before changing voting procedures. The section also applies to an additional 12 cities and 57 counties.

In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that part of the law was unconstitutional.

Congress overwhelmingly renewed the law in 2006, but some jurisdictions – including the Alabama county that brought the case to the Supreme Court – claim that the 1972 maps on which it is based do not reflect recent changes in the electorate.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa called the ruling “a disturbing decision and a blow to equality in America.”

“In striking down a critical component of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has endangered one of the most critical of citizens’ rights: the power to choose the people who represent them in government,” Hanabusa said. “For decades, the law has protected the right to vote for millions of minority voters across the country, ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to be heard and make a difference.”

Sen. Brian Schatz said the law is “an essential tool for fighting discrimination across the country,” and disagreed with the notion that it is outdated.

“While some might think that discrimination is an act of the past, we have seen several examples for why we still need laws in place to vigorously protect the right to vote,” he said. “We should find ways to make it easier to vote instead of restricting one of our most fundamental rights.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono said that Congress must act quickly to restore the key provisions the Supreme Court struck down and protect every Americans’ right to vote.

But given the current gridlock in Washington, congressional observers say action on the law is not likely soon.

NBC news reported that the Voting Rights Act was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes to voting laws between 1982 and 2006, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute at New York University.

Last year the law was invoked to stop a voter identification law in Texas and a Florida law that eliminated early voting days, which the center said would have made it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of minority voters to cast ballots.

The states covered by Section 4 are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

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