Voting Rights Push Still Active on Hill Year After Supreme Court Ruling

Finally, the bill would allow the Department of Justice to send observers into jurisdictions where there is evidence of voting discrimination.

Republicans have criticized the legislation because it places undue burden on certain states. They also argue that other sections of the Voting Rights Act provide adequate protection against electoral discrimination.

Vagins said the Supreme Court ruling effectively left Section 2 as the only tool to prevent the implementation of discriminatory voting changes. Compared to Section 5 preclearance, preliminary injunctions under Section 2 is a more burdensome and uncertain process, she noted.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Charleston County, S.C., in 2001, claiming that the at-large election of its county council violated Section 2 because it diluted minority-voting strength. More than two years later, after the case was filed, the federal district court ruled in favor of the United States.

“It took two election cycles for that to occur and people were disenfranchised during that time. Ultimately there was a victory. However, you cannot say that’s an equitable remedy to Section 5,” said Tanya Clay House, public policy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The manpower and cost of that litigation was enormous. And that was the Justice Department, not some of us who might try to litigate some of these cases. We have limited funding and there’s only certain things we can do.”

Clay House said her organization has conducted about 25 hearings across the country to collect testimony on the current landscape of voting and elections in the U.S. The group will release a report on their findings next month.

Polling places moved without notice, district maps that dilute the minority vote, and strict voter ID laws are all examples of tools to prevent minorities from voting, she said.

“You may not see some of the blatant discriminatory tactics that were taking place when the Voting Rights Act was originally passed, but they still have the same effect,” Clay House said.

In an effort to counter the Supreme Court ruling, the Obama administration has challenged several voting laws it finds discriminatory.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department will intervene in court challenges to laws that restrict voting in Wisconsin and Ohio. The Wisconsin law requires voters to have identification to cast a ballot. The law in Ohio eliminated the early voting period and ended same-day registration, among other restrictions. Both states were not required to pre-clear their voting law changes.

The Department of Justice has intervened in similar cases challenging the voting law in North Carolina and Texas.

“I will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote,” Holder told ABC News.