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Jun 25, 2013 7:11 PM by Chris Welty

Acadiana Lawmakers Speaking Out Over Voting Rights Act

A monumental decision in Washington rules a major section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Louisiana's voting laws and election districts no longer need federal approval before changes can take effect. In a five to four decision split on political lines, the Supreme Court said Congress must revise part of the 1965 law requiring states with a history of racial discrimination, to get federal permission before changing voting laws.

The justices said the law relies on data from 40 years ago, numbers that don't reflect racial progress and changes in society. The decision effectively puts an end to the advance approval requirement that has been used, mainly in the south, to open up polling places to minority voters since the law was first enacted in 1965.

Louisiana voters may see a difference in how districts are drawn, but not immediately. The state no longer needs federal review of routine changes to voting precincts and forms.

"Now, we won't get a sense of them looking over our shoulder. We can still be sued, we still have to do things in a race neutral way, but there isn't a presumption we're acting illegally or doing something wrong," said UL Professor and KATC Political Analyst Pearson Cross.

Two Acadiana lawmakers, despite party differences, agree saying the ruling is a "kick in the pants."

"It's a warning shot to the minority community. Instead of sitting at home on voting day, we need to go vote," said Senator Elbert Guillory of District 24.

State Representative Terry Landry is disappointed and says the voting act is the cornerstone of the civil rights movement. "Those people who really were in the trenches of the civil rights movement risked their lives and livelihood. it's an insult to those people. anytime we risk repeating history, we're on a dangerous and slippery slope."

Cross believes the legislature will have freedom to step away from majority-minority districts created in the past. He says detrimental changes affecting anyone's representation are still illegal.

"If African Americans are harmed by changes redistricting wise, they still have access to the courts and could still bring suit under voting rights act section 2 which applies to the whole country."

States could need federal approval again for voting changes, but only after Congress comes up with a new formula that meets what Chief Justice John Roberts calls "current conditions" dealing with race in the United States.

Chris Welty
cwelty@katctv.com

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