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June 22, 2013

Supreme Court Reconsiders the Voting Rights Act

Watch Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Voting Rights Act on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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Teachers: this video includes a short story followed by a discussion with Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

Forty-eight years after it was first passed into law, the Voting Rights Act that sought to end acts of voter discrimination is being reconsidered in the Supreme Court, where the nine justices are will determine whether the act’s Section 5 is still necessary today.

Georgia congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis spoke for the preservation of Section 5 at a rally outside the Supreme Court on February 27, saying “There are still forces in this country that want to take us back to another period, but we’re not going back. We have come too far. We have made too much progress to go back.”

Section 5 requires states with a history of discrimination to receive federal approval before altering their voting procedures or districts.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 after Lewis led a march of 600 people across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where they were violently attacked by police forces in an event later known as Bloody Sunday. Congress has continued to renew the law ever since, most recently in 2006.

Lewis believes that the Voting Rights Act should be preserved as it is written because people are using new tactics to keep people from voting today.

“The literacy test may be gone, but people are using other means, other tactics and techniques. So we still need Section 5, and that’s why we are here today standing up for the voting rights of all Americans.”

Some individuals and organizations question whether certain states should now be included in Section 5 and whether others should be removed. However, Justice Antonin Scalia is concerned that the law promotes a cycle of racial entitlement that doesn’t accurately reflect social circumstances.

While it is unclear as to how the case will be resolved, much of the debate is based on the state coverage formula, so it is possible that the formula for determining the coverage of Section 5 could be struck down while the section stays in place.


Quotes

“There are still forces in this country that want to take us back to another period, but we’re not going back. We have come too far. We have made too much progress to go back.

The literacy test may be gone, but people are using other means, other tactics and techniques. So we still need Section 5, and that’s why we are here today standing up for the voting rights of all Americans,” – Rep. John Lewis.

Warm up questions

1. What is the Voting Rights Act?

2. What is voter discrimination? Do you think there is voter discrimination in the U.S. today?

3. Who were some major figures in the civil rights movement?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still necessary today? Why or why not?

2. Rep. John Lewis talks about “other tactics and techniques” to discriminate against voters of color. What might he be referring to?

3. What are some groups of people besides racial minorities who have historically been prevented from voting? Do you think they face discrimination at the polls?

4. What might Justice Scalia mean by his opinion? Do you agree or disagree with it? Why?

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