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Georgians react to Voting Act decision

From left are Charles Sherrod and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany.

From left are Charles Sherrod and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Charles Sherrod, a former Albany city commissioner and a leader in the civil rights movement in Albany, says the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday that invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act was a "step backward" for those who fight inequality and restrictive access to the polls.

Sherrod, along with others in the community and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the Albany Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Tuesday, Sherrod said all of the work civil rights advocates had achieved was in danger of slipping away if the Voting Rights Act isn't upheld.

"It's a sad day when all of the work and all of the rights we have been fighting for since slavery are put in jeopardy," Sherrod said. "It seems we're going backward instead of forward."

He wasn't alone in voicing his opinion on the matter, which elicited a variety of responses from around the state Tuesday.

Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, said the decision speaks to a fundamental truth that the law is based on decades-old knowledge and logic.

"The Voting Rights Act will continue to protect the rights of all voters in all states, but will no longer treat some states differently based on outdated formulas that, thankfully, no longer reflect current practices," Olens said Tuesday.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, also a Republican, whose job is to safeguard Georgia's elections system, said Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was obsolete.

"Georgia and the rest of the nation have made tremendous progress in the past 50 years," Kemp said. "In recognizing that the current formulation for protection in Section Four of the Voting Rights Act is outdated and obsolete, the Supreme Court validated this progress today. Our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and Section Two of the Voting Rights Act prohibit any form of racial discrimination within the democratic process. As Georgia's chief elections official, it is my sacred duty to uphold this."

State Democrats had a different opinion.

"As citizens of this great country, one of our most cherished rights under the U.S. Constitution is our right to vote," U.S. rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said. "Personally, I am deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to nullify the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, as it disregards the overwhelming evidence that discrimination still exists at the voting booth.

"The Voting Rights Act is one of the most critical pieces of legislation that protects ballot access for all Americans, and I believe that this setback will have a very real and very detrimental impact on voting rights for millions of voters in Georgia and across the country. Congress must now work in a bipartisan and responsible way to revise the coverage formula and ensure that voting rights will be protected into the future."

Georgia Democratic Party interim Chair Nikema Williams said, "It is unfathomable to me that our High Court would disenfranchise so many citizens. With a stroke of a pen, the court has essentially invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

Fixing the now-unconstitutional Section 4 of the act would fall to Congress and before the ink had dried on the Supreme Court's order striking the provision, congressional Democrats, backed by the president, had vowed to do so.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., promised to move quickly to restore the law in the 100-seat, Democratic-led U.S. Senate.

"I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination," Leahy said.

A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the issue said it was likely that the Judiciary Committee would hold hearings on new legislation, but it was unclear how quickly a bill would begin moving through the Senate.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat, voiced doubts that Congress could reverse the court ruling.

"As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate (to end Republican procedural roadblocks)," Schumer said, "there will be no (federla) preclearance" for changes in state voting laws.

Reports from Reuters News Agency were included in this story.