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Murdered Voting Advocate's Brother Wants Protections Back

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Murdered Voting Advocate's Brother Wants Protections Back

The Anniversary Of 'Freedom Summer'

Murdered Voting Advocate's Brother Wants Protections Back

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A year ago today, the Supreme Court threw out a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The law had given the federal government a kind of veto power over states with a history of discrimination. A majority of justices argued that the provision's time had passed. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it, quote, "our country has changed." But civil rights activists say many states are now moving polling places and enacting laws that disproportionately hurt minorities. Here's NPR's Carrie Johnson.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: David Goodman stands on a patch of grass outside the U.S. Capitol on a steamy morning. He's delivering a message to lawmakers in the marble building behind him.

DAVID GOODMAN: And every person has the right to vote, and anytime anybody diminishes that, marginalizes it or simply passes a law to make it inconvenient, we're kind of back to the future. And it's happening today.

JOHNSON: Fifty years ago, the Klan kidnapped and murdered David's older brother, Andrew Goodman, and two other men working to register black voters during Freedom Summer. The killing shocked the conscience of the nation and helped lead Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But last year, Goodman says, a divided Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts threw out a key part of that law.

GOODMAN: He actually cited my brother's name as an example that, back in the day, Andy Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner were murdered and that doesn't happen anymore - and, oh, by the way, we have a black president, which I always find a little offensive to lump those together, as if to say there's no more problems.

JOHNSON: Civil rights advocates say the problems haven't gone away. They've just changed. Wade Henderson is president of a leadership conference on civil human rights.

WADE HENDERSON: Voting discrimination has changed over the years. Hiding behind polling place changes, ridiculously long lines and in some instances, redistricting. But it is still a pervasive national problem that requires a national solution.

JOHNSON: For Henderson, the solution is for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act. The bill would restore federal oversight of election laws in four states with a history of discrimination. The Senate judiciary committee holds a hearing on the legislation today. But Henderson says the House hasn't moved on the bill since it was introduced there six months ago.

HENDERSON: Voting is the language of democracy. If you don't vote, you don't count.

JOHNSON: Robert Driscoll is a former Justice Department official during the George W. Bush administration. He sees no evidence voter ID laws and other changes have turned away minority voters.

ROBERT DRISCOLL: I think those arguments fly in the face of the available data, which has generally shown that voter turnout, particularly black voter turnout, has gone up over the preceding elections. And it has gone up in states where a voter ID and other voter integrity measures that advocates have complained about have been implemented.

JOHNSON: Turnout is up in many states with new voting restrictions. In fact, Democrats may have used those laws to rally more people to come to the polls. And Driscoll says the Voting Rights Act still allows people to sue over discrimination. But unlike the old regime the Supreme Court rejected, the law now puts the burden on voters to prove and finance their lawsuits.

For Ernest Montgomery, the issue is personal. He's a three-term city council member in the city of Calera, Alabama. A few years ago, Calera redrew the voting boundaries for his district, the only one held by an African-American. Montgomery lost his seat by two votes. Then the U.S. Justice Department said the new map didn't comply with the voting law.

ERNIE MONTGOMERY: After that, they had us to have a new election, which we did. And after we had the new election, I won my seat back.

JOHNSON: But since then, the Supreme Court has overturned the part of the law that helped him. Now Montgomery worries Alabama and other states are moving in the wrong direction.

MONTGOMERY: It seems like we should be having more inclusion, trying to get people to participate in electing our leaders instead of suppressing their votes.

JOHNSON: Montgomery says the law helps people do the right thing. And if you take away the law, he says, people are apt to go back to bad, old habits. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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