Good week at the United States Supreme Court

Harry C. Alford | 7/4/2013, midnight

The latest session of the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) had the interest of Black Americans like never before. On the line were two key components that brought African Americans into full citizenship, affirmative action and voting rights. The National Black Chamber of Commerce had “skin” in the game as we formally filed an amicus brief for each of the pertinent cases. We file amicus briefs three or four times a year. We have been pretty successful in that our opinions have been on the winning side every time. We are undefeated and last week our record stayed intact.

The first decision dealt with affirmative action at the college level, Fisher vs. University of Texas, Austin Campus. The issue was whether certain programs addressing past discrimination can be implemented to cure that discrimination. The Supreme Court has been quite clear on this—yes, they can! As long as the discrimination is clear and evident and that no race-neutral program can solve it, plus you must apply a program that has strict scrutiny. Strict scrutiny defines who is being discriminated against and who is not (a disparity study determines this). Only the victims of the discrimination can participate in the program. This follows Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The lower court made a decision that did not follow the above and the SCOTUS sent the case back for further review. All schools need to adhere to this advice. We do a pretty good job following the strict scrutiny standard with contracting programs.

The key to affirmative action is to follow the previous instructions of the Supreme Court. There is certainly discrimination happening at many levels of our society. Usually the victims are of African American descent. Until that ends, affirmative action will exist.

Now let’s look at the other case. This involves the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs claimed that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional since it is based on an historical atmosphere that no longer exists. Section 5 required certain geographies, which have a historical habit of denying certain citizens their voting rights or made it extremely difficult to register, to make no changes of any sort unless they got approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Back in 1965, intimidation, threats, literacy tests, certain references, etc., were used to block African Americans from voting in places like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and practically all the South and certain rural counties elsewhere. Oh, this was really needed. A lot of good people were attacked and some even murdered while trying to end this inequity.

Times have certainly changed. At the time the law was enacted, African Americans had a registration rate of about 24 percent. Today, most of those areas have an African American registration rate of 74 percent or more. The number of Black elected officials has exponentially grown from city councils to the office of the presidency. Black Americans indeed have voting power and it is never going to go away. That is why this lawsuit came about. These geographies for the most part have Black participation in all the decisions concerning voting rights.