Ho: We represent intervenors in the case. Private citizens, individual voters whose rights are protected by the Voting Rights Act. I’m a member of the team on the case and one of the principal drafters of the brief on the case.
Q: How is your team preparing for argument?
Ho: It’s the legal equivalent of those training scenes in the Rocky movies. It’s nowhere near as exciting, although it can be physically grueling because we go pretty late at night. We run through all the almost-infinite number of questions that the Supreme Court might ask, and really try to hone those answers.
Q: How will this decision impact the country at-large?
Ho: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is often referred to as the crowned jewel of the civil rights movement. Before that act was passed, democracy in many parts of the country was in shambles — those are Justice Kennedy’s words from four years ago. You had voter registration rates in parts of the country for African-Americans that were below 10 percent. The act really changed that, but progress isn’t over. Even though access to registration has improved, problems with voting discrimination is still with us. We still see discriminatory techniques designed to prevent minority voters from voting, and there are hundreds of examples of that happening since the last time the act was reauthorized.
Q: How is this going to play out?
Ho: There’s going to be an argument. Shelby County will argue we don’t need the act anymore. They’ll say things have improved, but that doesn’t mean that all of our problems are behind us. Just because things have improved doesn’t mean that this act, which the Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional four times over four decades, has suddenly become unconstitutional.
Q: That’s what’s going to happen, but what’s really going to happen?
Ho: What we hear a lot is this the most conservative Supreme Court in some time. What you’re really asking is are we concerned. They haven’t been the most hospitable court to civil rights issues, so whenever something like that goes before this court, there is concern. But whenever judges in the lower courts, both conservative and liberal, have looked closely at what’s still happening in this country, they’ve concluded that this act is not only justifiable, but essential to our democracy.
In the Texas redistricting case last year, 2 of the 3 judges appointed were by [President George W. Bush], but they found unanimously that state legislature discriminated against black voters when they redrew the voting districts, that minority voters wouldn’t have an effective say. When judges don’t think of this through their abstract view of how they want the world to be, and instead look a the actual evidence, we get less concerned.
Q: What misconception will you have to clear to win this argument?
Ho: This idea that because we don’t have events like the Bloody Sunday that took place in Alabama, where you have nonviolent protesters beaten by state troopers with dogs and tear gas, just because things like that don’t really happen anymore, doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with discrimination and voting. The voting rights act has prevented hundreds of cases of discrimination.
There’s also this notion that the act punishes the south and discriminates against southerners. But it also applies to areas outside the south that have had issues with racial voting, it’s not targeting the states just because they’re in the south.
Q: What else?
Ho: One irony about this case is that it arises out of Alabama, the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act. I think it’s really ironic that a county in Alabama would be the one to stand up and say we don’t need the Voting Rights Act anymore when Alabama continues, to this day, to have problems with voting discrimination.
(Image: Dale Ho, NAACP Legal Defense Fund)