Coast civil rights leaders let down by Voting Rights Act ruling

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday made a major change to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a 5 to 4 vote, the justices eliminated the map, or formula, that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws.

The act was passed during the height of the civil rights movement, targeting states like Mississippi with histories of voter discrimination.

Jackson County Supervisor Melton Harris still recalls the racial tension that existed in the South before the landmark Voting Rights Act was passed.

"Very few blacks, if any, were voting. It was a really a death threat for you to go to the polls in 1965," Harris said. Of course, the Voting Rights Act cleared it up, so you can get some type of protection and security."

Supervisor Harris represents the only majority-minority district in the county. He admits he was shocked to hear the Supreme Court would weaken a tool used to scrutinize states known for unfair practices against minorities.

"It is equivalent of having a car in the ditch and you get it 60 percent out. You don't stop," Harris said.

NAACP President Curley Clark he is upset, but not shocked.

"Given the makeup of the court, because it is a conservative court, I felt like an unfavorable ruling would be possible. I was disappointed when that ruling did take place, but I was relived the entire act itself wasn't ruled unconstitutional," Clark said.

These leaders said the ruling will make it more difficult to prevent discrimination, fraud and unfair redistricting.

"That means we will have to work harder because we no longer have the federal government having any type of preclearance," Clark said.

Now the Supreme Court is putting Congress in charge of adopting a new formula to determine which states will need federal oversight. The leaders said they're not confident Congress will ensure voting equality for minorities.

"This is a disappointing time. But even in the disappointment, we must do all we can to continue to ensure that discrimination, voting fraud and things of that sort can be eliminated," said Harris.

The ruling clears the way for Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to start implementing a voter ID law that had been awaiting federal clearance.

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