Supreme Court ruling on Voters Rights Act to have direct impact on Georgia

by: WSBTV.com web staff Updated:

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ATLANTA - A deeply divided Supreme Court has ruled a provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Georgia had been one of several states that had to get federal approval for election law changes.

Channel 2 Action New has tracked down several state leaders who are reacting cautiously to the Supreme Court's ruling.

President Barack Obama said he is deeply disappointed despite the 5-4 ruling. The Supreme Court said the act does not reflect racial progress.

No longer will elections officials in Georgia and eight other states have to get permission in advance for a change as minor as moving a voting site down the street.

An expert in election law said Georgia is no longer incarcerated by the Justice Department, but a much different view from supporters of the law.

"This decision represents a serious setback for voting rights and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I'm in disbelief that members of the Supreme Court would take this position," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

Since Congress passed the voting rights act in 1965, Georgia and other states with a history of voter discrimination have had to get advance notice of all election changes, especially the drawing of district lines.

After Tuesday's ruling, that's not the case anymore.

Atlanta lawyer Lee Parks has done election work in four states, including Georgia.

"When its legislature passes a law relating to elections, it goes into effect unless someone can prove that it discriminates. Under Section 5, it was the state's burden to prove that it did not discriminate," Parks told Channel 2' Richard Belcher.

The White House apparently holds out hope that Congress will be able to establish new standards that will pass muster with the court.

Parks told Belcher he is skeptical. He said the voting right law has done its job.

"Georgia has more African-Americans as a percentage of the total population registered than whites. In 1965, there was four times as many whites registered as blacks," Parks said.

Lewis said he was deeply disappointed by the court's 5-4 decisions.

"We've come a distance. We've made progress, but there's still progress to be made," Lewis said.

The majority of the justices concluded that the voting rights law relied on elections data from 40 years ago that doesn't reflect racial progress

"It is unreal, it is unbelievable that the Supreme Court set us so far back," Lewis said.

Lewis said without the Voting Rights Act, there would be no Congressman John Lewis or President Barack Obama and it is still needed, especially in the south.

"I take the action personally because a few short years ago, I was arrested, beaten and almost died on a bridge for the right to vote," he said.

Lewis said there's no reason to believe Congress can get its act together to pass new criteria in time for the 2014 election season.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the decision has lifted a burden on the state.

"It's a stigma that's on its face should have been removed," Deal said. "It just says Georgia is going to be like all those other states that never were under the Voting Rights Act."

Deal said the country has bigger issues to deal with than the Voters Rights Act.

"I would suggest they have more important things to do, like fixing the Affordable Care Act, that will affect every state and every business community in the state, rather than dealing with this issue," Deal said.

Activists in the Atlanta metro told Channel 2's Tony Thomas they plan to move quickly to push through both state laws in Georgia and through Washington in response to the Supreme Court's decision Tuesday.

"It represents a serious stumble in the march for voting rights and equality," said Kevin Myles of the Southeast Region NAACP from the steps of the Georgia state capitol.

"It's a sad day for democracy," said civil rights activist Joseph Lowery.

Reaction came quickly and harshly as well from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

"For those of you that thought that we have overcome to the point that you have arrived, today you found out that you may have arrived, but you got off at the wrong station," said Charles Steele with the SCLC.

"Now, different voting bodies can make decision(s) to move voting precincts in the middle of nowhere," Dubois said.

Activists want to turn the court decision into a positive, inspiring the passions of those who they believe have grown silent.

"This is the spark we needed to start a new movement," Dubois said. "We don't care if you put the voting booths in the middle of the deserts, we'll find it and we will vote and we'll make a difference."

The NAACP said it is already working with lawmakers here and in Washington and is hopeful new laws can be passed to satisfy the courts.