The Advocate
July 15, 2013

As we in the LGBT community eagerly awaited the decisions on gay marriage from the Supreme Court, we watched in horror as the Supremes struck down the formula for determining which jurisdictions would have to get prior approval before changing voter laws. Because of historic discrimination in these identified states and cities, the U.S. Department of Justice had the authority to challenge changes in voter laws, which would disproportionately and negatively affect minority voters—usually meaning African Americans and Hispanics—before they took effect.

While the Supreme Court's ruling did not render the Voter Rights Act (originally enacted in the Lyndon Johnson administration, and recently reauthorized by an overwhelming majority of Congress) unconstitutional in its entirety, it did render unconstitutional the formula used to implement the legislation. Famed civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, got it right. He said the Supreme Court's ruling "drove a dagger into the heart of the Voter Rights Act."

The Supreme Court mortally wounded the Voter Rights Act in a particularly sneaky way, ostensibly allowing the law to stand, but demanding that the Congress update its formula for defining which jurisdictions would be subject to its scrutiny. That task, in a Congress that can't get a filibuster-proof majority for agreeing on what day it is, seems nearly an impossibly high hurdle for voter justice!

So, why should a white, gay man care so much or be so horrified at this ruling? First, because I believe in America, and the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy.  The Voter Rights Act is arguably the most significant piece of civil rights legislation enacted in the last century.