By David Mark Greaves with Nathaniel Adams
“One of the most important cases facing this generation will be Shelby County v Holder, which will be heard before the Supreme Court on February 27th,” said Janai Nelson, Assistant Professor at St. John’s University School of Law and the Assistant Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development.
She was at the Medgar Evers College Black History Month Forum on voting rights and the dangers faced today. “The Voting Rights Act helped to create districts that enabled African-Americans to be elected into offices,” said Ms. Nelson, and it gave “different constituents the experience of leadership on the part of African-Americans which created a climate that allowed for the election of Barack Obama. It also helped to ensure that African-Americans and other minorities were being registered, that they had the opportunity to become politically active and to have their vote weighed in a way that was empowering and meaningful”.
Section 5 of the Act ensures that any changes to voting procedures in areas covered by the Act, as determined by now-decades-old formulas, have to be first cleared by the federal government.
At the time of the last ruling Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today”.
Regarding today’s conditions, Prof. Simmons said, “In 2008 36 states tried to suppress Black and Latino votes. Those laws were beaten back,” said Esmeralda Simmons, but with the Shelby County v Holder case to be heard by the Supreme Court, that ability is in jeopardy. “Section 5 is the strongest section of the Voting Rights Act and people must stay vigilant. The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance.” So it’s important we do everything we can to protect this important aspect of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5,” said Professor Nelson, “because it has done so much to transform the face of American democracy and I fear to see what it will look like without Section 5.”
Prof. Roger Green added, “There was a clear attempt on the part of some forces in both the Republican Party and from the extreme Right to suppress African-American turnout and other people of color. What is empowering is that in spite of these attempts Obama’s election demonstrated that a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, East Indians demonstrates that the governing coalition, in the context of the Democratic Party and for the nation, happens to be people of color.”
Green went on to say he was heartened to see the turnout of young people on the voting rights issue and that many MEC students will be going down to Washington to witness the arguments. “Students have taken this to heart, particularly since Medgar Evers was assassinated trying to register African-Americans to vote.”
John Flateau, Professor of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College and a voting rights strategist, said the forum brought together nationally known civil rights attorneys and student leadership to talk about “the pending challenge to the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression tactics”, the new laws being imposed in jurisdictions around the country and “how some of those tactics were used in the 2012 presidential election to slow down voters of color in places like Ohio and Florida”. We must remain vigilant as a community and as our student leader on the panel, Camille McIntosh, said, we must encourage our young people to learn more about the political process and to exercise their right to vote.
In partnership with the Office of the Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes, Medgar Evers College’s Partnership for Racial Justice will present a two-day symposium on Thursday, February 14 at 1150 Carroll St. Gymnasium from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Friday, February 15 from, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at 1650 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn. Speakers include Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, former New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. MEC School of Business Dean Dr. Byron Price, author of the forthcoming A Lesson Plan for Failure: Educational Malpractice and the School-to-Prison Pipeline Connection is among the featured panelists.