Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, were among close to 20 civil rights advocates who met with Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez – the former head of the DOJ civil rights division – in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
“More resources are going to be required in order to set the record for the kind of discrimination that we believe is afoot in the United States of America,” Reed said after the meeting “And we cannot rely on these (civil rights) organizations to respond without being well-sourced.”
In June the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act formula that required certain states and areas with a history of discrimination – including Georgia – to submit all new voting laws to the federal government for “pre-clearance” before they could be enacted. In a 5-4 decision the formula, having changed little since the law was passed in 1965, was ruled unconstitutionally stale, though Congress could come up with a new one.
Georgia state leaders such as Attorney General Sam Olens and Secretary of State Brian Kemp cheered the ruling for removing what they felt was an onerous requirement based on an outdated standard, while keeping a mechanism to file suit against any discriminatory law.
While the days of literacy tests are long gone, civil rights groups – and Obama himself – have argued that other forms of discrimination persist to a degree that requires federal intervention before they can be enacted. Advocates are concerned that voting changes in small towns and rural areas that dilute minority voting power will fly under the radar.
“They are open to many of us on the ground to … be resources to bring any violation of the Voting Rights Act directly to the Justice Department,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We’ve been greatly encouraged by that. There is a wound in the Voting Rights Act, but it is far from dead. It’s not even on critical.”