Local proponents of Voting Rights Act, react to SCOTUS ruling - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Local proponents of Voting Rights Act, react to SCOTUS ruling

New Orleans, La. -

Local supporters of the Voting Rights Act are reacting angrily to its partial repeal by the U.S. Supreme Court. They say the act has been responsible for countless African-Americans being elected in Louisiana, and they worry that it may result in a turning back of the clock.

When Bernette Johnson was sworn in as the state's first African-American chief justice back in February, she did so with a lot of help from the Voting Rights Act.

Her attorney James Williams said, "I hope that Congress has the good sense to know this is not a post-racial world yet."

If it weren't for the act, Johnson might not have ever been elected. Districts were challenged, and changed, to properly represent black voting strength.  "The black voting strength in New Orleans was diluted to include the surrounding parishes," said Williams.

Williams is now appalled that the enforcement provisions of an act that has helped dozens of African-Americans win election have been repealed.

Not only did those provisions help Johnson win election to Louisiana's Supreme Court, but Williams says they were invoked once more in court when she was challenged in her bid to become chief justice.

"It's been extremely influential. The effect of the Voting Rights Act was to give ballot access to minorities who had been forbidden from casting a ballot," said UNO political analyst Ed Chervenak, PhD.

Since the 1960's, three Louisiana redistricting plans were rejected by the U.S. Justice Department for failing to meet the provisions of the law.

"We're not where we were, but we're not where we ought to be," said Williams.

Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) may also have never won election, if his district wasn't re-drawn under the act. "It's unlikely," said Chervenak. "The Voting Rights Act forced states to create minority-majority districts so that minorities could be elected to the legislature and achieve representation."

While the man who helped seat the state's first African-American chief justice is angry, the ACLU is taking a more optimistic view.

"Repeatedly Congress has approved protections, and there's no reason to believe they won't allow them to continue to exist, " said Marjorie Esman of the local ACLU office.

The question for many is, how quickly will Congress beef up enforcement provisions of voter fairness laws, which many say are still needed?

The high court's ruling came down Tuesday, in part because there was evidence that areas that were subjected to the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, had advanced further than areas that were not.

Congressman Richmond issued a statement blasting the ruling. He said he was "terribly disturbed, and disappointed," and he said that the current composition of Congress "does not lend itself to confidence to being able to fix this issue in the near term."

And late Tuesday afternoon, Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) hailed the ruling, saying that the Voting Rights Act was completely outdated and the Supreme Court ruling is welcome news for Louisiana voters and states' rights advocates.

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