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Reform Movement Urges Voting Rights Action on 2-Year Anniversary of Shelby

Reform Movement Urges Voting Rights Action on 2-Year Anniversary of Shelby

Contact: Max Rosenblum or Claire Shimberg
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

Washington, D.C., June 25, 2015 – In honor of the 2-year anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

"Today, on the 2-year anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the Religious Action Center joins the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP and countless other civil rights activists and advocates in Roanoke, Virginia to call for renewed commitment to restoring voting rights. During the rally, Rabbi Kathy Cohen of Temple Emanuel in Roanoke and Rabbi Michael Namath, Program Director at the RAC, will address the crowd.

The right to participate in the selection of one’s elected representatives is fundamental to the functioning of a strong and healthy democracy. The RAC, which throughout its history has worked to expand and protect voting rights, is proud that the original 1964 legislation was in part drafted in our building. Today, we are working to ensure that Congress passes a bill to protect all voters through the newly introduced Voting Rights Advancement Act or other effective legislation. To that end, Reform rabbis and cantors from coast to coast have signed a letter to be presented and delivered to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, urging his leadership in spurring Congress to act on this vital issue. The letter makes clear what is at stake, noting, “The effects of the Court’s decision [in Shelby v Holder] are already evident across the country as many states previously covered by the now invalidated “preclearance” formula have tested the extent to which they can legally limit citizens’ access to the ballot box by introducing, and in some cases passing, restrictive voting laws… While there are still methods available to challenge laws that turn out to be discriminatory, Congress must pass legislation that protects voters before they are victims of discrimination.” The full text of the letter can be found below."

Dear Chairman Goodlatte,

As American rabbis and cantors who serve congregations across the United States, we express our strong support for restoring the Voting Rights Act and urge you to help lead congressional action to swiftly restore this landmark legislation and ensure the right to vote is protected for generations to come.

The Reform Jewish Movement has a proud history of leadership in the struggle for voting rights. The ability to express one’s will at the ballot box is a right no eligible citizen should be denied and a belief that is reinforced by Jewish tradition, which teaches us that the selection of leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility. Rabbi Yitzchak taught that, "a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Babylonian Talmud, B'rachot 55a). For these reasons, our mentors and colleagues marched in Selma, were arrested with Dr. King in St. Augustine, and participated in Freedom Summer. They believed then, and we believe today, that the freedom and protection of our democracy is crucial to the health and well-being of our country.

The Supreme Court’s decision two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act that protected voters from discrimination. The effects of the Court’s decision are already evident across the country as many states previously covered by the now invalidated “preclearance” formula have tested the extent to which they can legally limit citizens’ access to the ballot box by introducing, and in some cases passing, restrictive voting laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 21 states have passed new, restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election with provisions ranging from registration restrictions to photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks. Voters in fourteen states faced new voting restrictions for the first time during the 2014 midterm election, the first election in nearly 50 years without the full protection of the VRA. In Texas, an estimated 600,000 voters statewide did not have one of the necessary forms of photo identification required by the new ID law to vote in the 2014 election. These new laws remind us that while voter discrimination today looks different than it did in the 1960s, it is not a problem of the past.

While there are still methods available to challenge laws that turn out to be discriminatory, Congress must pass legislation that protects voters before they are victims of discrimination. We strongly urge you to use your leadership of the House Judiciary Committee to pass legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act to its full strength. It is time for Congress to ensure our nation upholds the highest values of our democracy.