msnbc | February 27, 2013
>>> developing news topping the agenda today with decades of civil rights history colliding in the nation's capital. we want to show you live pictures from capitol hill where president obama will speak this hour at the unveiling of a statue of civil rights pioneer rosa parks , the first of an african- american woman to stand in the capitol statuary hall . parks became an icon in 1955 after refusing to vacate her seat to a white passenger on a bus in montgomery, alabama . that act of defiance resulted in her arrest and a bus boycott led by a pastor named martin luther king . not far from the capital the supreme court is hearing arguments on a key provision on whether the 1965 voting acts law has outlived its productivity it is considered one of the most effective and powerful civil rights statutes in american history . in the high court bulls eye is section five which requires nine states with a history of discrimination to clear any proposed change in voting rules with the federal government . it also partially covers districts in seven other states . the act was reauthorized in 2006 . democrats from the hill held a news conference late this morning on the steps of the court to call for section five to be upheld.
>> we still need section five and that is why we're here today standing up for the voting rights of all americans. we must never give up, never give in.
>> the right to vote must be preserved. the right to vote must be protected. the right to vote must remain the cornerstone of our democracy.
>> you will not win. you will not win this battle. this is not the first time.
>> certainly a big morning when it comes to voting rights in america . joining me now is patricia anmalete an attorney who has argued more than two dozen cases before the supreme court and my two other guests. i want to start out by reminding everybody how jon lewis remembers what he went through as a young man when it came to getting the right to vote. take a look.
>> 17 of us went to the good samaritan hospital in downtown selma. just eight days later, president lyndon johnson introduced the voting rights act and later on august 6th , 1965 he signed that act into law.
>> reverend barber, it is easy for people to embrace the emotion of what it means to have the right to vote and certainly what so many americans went through to get that. a lot of generations today may not appreciate what so many went through. but explain how you feel about the legitimacy of that law in 2013 .
>> thank you so much. if you see the diversity here as i stand here with the attorney, black and white together, when you look at the law you have to look at it through the continuum of history. in 1868 , '72 we had a premeditated attack on voting rights to try to roll them back. 1968 we had a premeditated attack to roll back voting rights . now what we see are premeditated attacks to roll back our voting rights . the only way you can pass stop voter i.d. laws, gerrymandering, redistricting, race based schemes, stop those who want to roll back things like same day registration and early voting you have to have the heart of the voting rights act which is preclearance. without that these premeditated attacks would go unchallenged. 5 million people were protected just last year because they could not preclear. they could not move past section 5. without section 5 there would be no protection against those who want to roll back our democracy and roll back fundamental rights .
>> okay. as we look at this specifically, this section 5 issue before the supreme court , goldy , i want to show everybody that a lower court rules against shelby in which it says that overt racial discrimination persists in covered jurisdictions. a "the washington post " editorial says protecting the right to vote is of such importance that congress should have the authority to use strong measures to protect it. how do you predict the arguments will go today?
>> it is going to be tough because over the last 30 years we've looked at the record of supreme court justice roberts and his track record on this issue. he has been a person who has been against the voting rights act . he wrote several memos during the reagan administration to the justice department that, you know, flew in the face of the section 5 and other sections of the voting rights act in feeling it had youd lived its usefulness. we know its useful in evidence is right when we look at places like here in georgia . john lewis is the congressman here and we certainly honor the fight and stand he took for atlanta and around the south. that fight just isn't over. when you look at the new voting i.d. laws they're pressing in georgia and texas and trying to keep people of color , younger people, even older people away from the polls. and those people who typically, most typically vote democratic. i think taking section 5 away, taking it away, takes away the most valuable portion because without it we can get these things through we certainly come a long way from literacy tests . i don't know if we've come as far as poll taxes taus baus that gets to the issue of paying for an identification card to get the vote. as goldy brings up, certainly interesting to watch. the justices here, she brought up chief justice roberts . i want to show everybody in 2009 , he said things have changed in the south and may no longer be justified by current conditions. the other justice to watch is kennedy. as we said, you have argued two dozen cases before the court. what do you think about how the justices and this look at the two men, roberts and kennedy, are the most important today?
>> well, i think i was inside the courtroom until just a few minutes ago and the questioning from the chief justices was exactly as you have described and might have predicted very much probing this question whether there is any reason to continue to apply this to select states . he had a whole series of questions trying to show that massachusetts had the worse ratio of african-american to white voter turnout than some of the states in the south but the argument began with justices sotomayor, kagan, and breyer very aggressively showing alabama and shelby county in particular has had 242 laws blocked by this statute and as i said under any formula congress would enact you would be covered. it is that debate about whether the target is appropriately captured that is going on inside right now.
>> as we look at the states , states calling for section 5 to be struck down i want to illustrate we're talking about alabama , alaska, arizona, georgia , south carolina , south dakota , and texas. reverend, explain, why is there still a distinct difference when it comes to certain states of the south based on what the direct reference i guess what chief justice roberts was trying to make the state of massachusetts .
>> you have to understand that was planned. if you go back to 1968 and the southern strategy the attempt was to build a solid south . what is happening now the changing demographics and the fruits of section 5 are beginning to come to fruition and we're seeing the solid south be broken and open up. because of that those who have a regressive mindset, who are afraid of a more hetrogeneous system, they want to stop this. they can't. we're kind of in the third reconstruction and seeing things happen in america some people never dreamed of or believed so you see all of these schemes out of state houses, voter i.d., gerrymandering, redistricting, what we saw in north carolina , attempts to roll back same day registration and early voting at the very time voting is going up. so section 5 is just now beginning to bear major fruit. we should not undo a partial remedy after 200 some odd years of discrimination in the middle of it when it is going to show fruit and now you want to roll it back. that is the travesty that it is unamerican. shelby is our selma. alabama is america . this is all of our fights and it is undemocratic and we should not stand for it. it is not so long ago. we're only five months away or less than that from the election of 2012 and this is what the reverend al sharpton had to say reminding everybody what voters went through in certain areas.
>> last year the voter i.d. laws and long lines and ending early voting and stopping sunday to the polls showed that jim crow 's son james crow jr. esquire is still trying to do what his daddy did and that's rob us from the right to vote.
>> how much do you think the supreme court is taking into the digestion of the political cycle we just lived through? the examples we lived through, goldy , that then are implemented into the arguments, considerations being talked about today?
>> i think reverend al sharpton is right. on the one side you have the very long lines. you have a limited number of voting machines in districts where they expect higher turn out. you have college students being blocked from the rolls because they didn't list their specific dorm room on their voter registration card . so we're a long way away from billy clubs, dogs, and water hoses. we're right up here with gerrymandering, putting causal impediments in place where people can't get to the polls. what we ought to be about is expanding enfranchisement.
>> thank you for joining me today. i appreciate your insights.
>>> coming up we have only two days, less than 24 or 48 hours until the sequester taking effect. and now we have the president. asking for face to face meetings with congressional leaders. it is the first time he's meeting with some on the right face to face . plus hagel at the helm after weeks of delay but no delay in getting to work today. he is on the job. our power panel is going to weigh in on that coming up. today's big question to you. do you think section 5 of the voting rights act has or has not outlived its legitimacy? tweet your answers to thomas a. roberts . find us on face