Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying that “voting rights are foundational to our democracy,” called in San Francisco today for stepped-up protections in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Our government cannot fully represent the people unless it has been fairly elected by them,” Clinton told lawyers at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting.
Clinton spoke after receiving the association’s highest honor, the ABA Medal, for her service to American jurisprudence during her career as a lawyer, first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
She told the attorneys her speech was the first in a series she will give on public issues during the next several months.
Future topics include education and the need for “balance and transparency in national security policy,” said Clinton, who has not revealed whether she plans to run for president in 2016.
Clinton said she fears the Supreme Court’s decision in June has opened the door for some states to pass restrictive laws that unfairly prevent or discourage minority, young and elderly citizens from voting.
The high court in that 5-4 ruling struck down a provision that required certain states, cities and counties to get prior approval from the Justice Department before passing laws that affect voting.
“The Supreme Court recently struck at the heart of the Voting Rights Act by invalidating the pre-clearance procedure that had been so effective,” Clinton said.
“We’ve made real progress” in increasing ballot access since the 1960s, Clinton said, but “unless the hole opened by the Supreme Court’s ruling is fixed, citizens will be disenfranchised and that historical progress will go backwards instead of forward.”
Clinton said that this year, more than 80 bills have been introduced in 31 states that have the result of restricting voting.
The measures include bans on extending ballot hours when there are lines of voters, an end to same-day voter registration and the establishment of stringent identification requirements allegedly aimed at what Clinton called “the phantom epidemic of voter ID fraud.”
Other, “under the radar” problems that affect voting include changes in poll locations, lack of language assistance and a dearth of laws banning deceptive materials that tell potential voters the wrong date or place for voting, Clinton said.
But the jeopardy to voting rights “is one of those problems that that we can and should fix,” said Clinton, who called for action by lawyers, legislators and citizens.
She urged Congress to pass a new law replacing the invalidated provision, applauded Justice Department efforts to enforce other sections of the Voting Rights Act, and asked lawyers and grass-roots groups to step up to safeguard rights.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has shifted the burden back onto citizens wishing to fight discrimination and those lawyers willing to help them,” she said.
The former voting act provision required Justice Department pre-clearance for changes in states and localities in which fewer than half of eligible voters were registered in the early 1960s.
It applied to all or most of nine states, most of which were in the South, and some counties and cities in six other states, including Monterey County and most of Kings and Yuba counties in California.
The ABA’s annual meeting, which comes to San Francisco every three years, began at Moscone Center West on Thursday and ends on Tuesday.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News