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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Stand With Me -- Congress Must Strengthen The Voting Rights Act - by Dean Jocelyn Benson

Photo Credit - Jocelyn Benson
Dean of Wayne State University Law School
& Expert in Election Law

IU News & Talk Guest Post

By Wayne State University Law School Dean - 
Jocelyn Benson

I started my career at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  During my time in Alabama, I frequently visited the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where brave marchers endured savage beatings and tear gas in the name of that sacred principle enshrined in our Constitution: “one man, one vote.”

It is impossible to visit that historic bridge and not walk away with an appreciation for just how much has been sacrificed, both abroad and on our own soil, so that the right to vote could be protected for all of us. 
 Those visits provided the initial inspiration to go to law school, in the hopes that I could spend my own career doing what I could to continue the work of guarding the integrity of our elections.

Recently, five Justices on the United States Supreme Court overturned decades of bipartisan efforts to protect democracy in finding one of the most critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional.  The provision required certain localities, including two in Michigan, to submit their election law changes to the federal government for pre-approval. 

The purpose was to ensure that the new laws would not discriminate against minority voters in that jurisdiction. The court did not reject this concept of federal review, but did reject the method of determining which areas of the country should be subject to the coverage.

The Court’s decision was a striking act of judicial activism that ignored a voluminous legislative record steeped in examples of ongoing acts of voting discrimination in certain parts of our country.

The five Justices in the majority assumed that because threats to our democracy do not come in the dramatic form of tear gas and billy clubs, they are somehow less real. But democracy is threatened any time an eligible voter is disenfranchised, every time a law is enacted on specious grounds that extend the time required to register or to cast a ballot, and any time gerrymandering results in districts that silence a community’s voice.

It’s now up to Congress to work together forcefully and effectively to ensure our fundamental right to vote is secure and protected for every American citizen. This is a bipartisan goal and it needs to happen soon.  Every citizen of this country should demand that Republicans and Democrats in Congress should revise and update the law in accordance with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

I hope you will stand with me in encouraging Congress to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.

Author's Bio
Jocelyn Benson was named interim dean of the Law School in December 2012.

Dean Benson has been a key member of the Law faculty since 2005, and is the associate director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. In that capacity she created and directs the Michigan Allies Project, an effort designed to track hate incidents throughout Michigan and provide legal support for victims. Her areas of expertise include election law, education law, race and the law and civil procedure.

Dean Benson founded and is the executive director of the nonpartisan Michigan Center for Election Law, which hosts projects that support transparency and integrity in elections. In 2011, the center hosted Michigan’s first “Citizens’ Redistricting Competition,” inviting residents to draw their own redistricting maps for the state.

Also in 2011, she was selected to serve with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the board of iCivics, a nonprofit organization that she created to improve civics education in our country. Dean Benson also founded and is president of Military Spouses of Michigan.

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