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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eviscerate the 1965 Voting Rights Act sent a chill through Queens, which has become a beacon for people from all over the world seeking equality.
Even though the ruling applied directly to the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn, which had to seek federal approval before making any changes to election procedures because their English literacy test requirement discriminated against blacks and Hispanics, the ripple effect was felt in many corners of this borough.
Now that this protection has been struck down, some advocates are worried future changes in election practices and the redrawing of district lines could disenfranchise black, Hispanic and Asian voters in Queens.
Jerry Vattamala, of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, pointed out that “Queens really benefited from having its neighborhood counties covered.”
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote “our country has changed” and left it up to Congress to enact legislation to end racial discrimination “under current conditions.”
By punting the responsibility for fair elections to Congress, the majority ignored the fact that the bitterly divided body was unlikely to muster the strength to duplicate the bipartisan effort that extended the Voting Rights Act back in 2006 — at least in this session.
Nevertheless, two Queens reps — Gregory Meeks, whose district is predominantly black, and Grace Meng, the state’s first Asian-American member of Congress — have appealed to their fellow lawmakers to suspend the political infighting and re-enact the Voting Rights Act.
“Although this decision is a setback, it will not end our efforts to combat discriminatory voting practices,” Meng said after the 5-4 court decision.
Queens, like the rest of the country, has changed since the act was last updated in 1975 and is now the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. It is imperative that the largest minorities — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — are treated equally at the polls as well as the newcomers drawn to the borough by the promise of democracy.
It is ironic the Supreme Court ruled right before the July 4 holiday, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, taught in classrooms around the world with the ringing words “all men are created equal.”
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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