October 4, 2022

NEWARK – As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in Merrill v Milligan, a case that could undermine Sec. 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibiting racially discriminatory voting practices, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice called for New Jersey to pass a Voting Rights Act of its own: a strong version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey (A4554/S2997). Sec. 2 was already weakened in the Brnovich v DNC case last term and today’s case can further erode it.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder, a case I helped litigate, we knew we’d have a big fight ahead of us to restore voting rights in this country,” said Ryan Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Now with Sec. 2 on the chopping block again, the fight becomes even more pressing. New Jersey can’t stand by and rely on weakened federal standards. As one of the most diverse states in the country, New Jersey must be a leader and pass our own Voting Rights Act to protect and expand access to the ballot for all our residents.” 

Sec. 5 was the provision of the federal Voting Rights Act requiring states and localities with racially discriminatory histories to get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court for any changes in voting practices. Further weakening Sec. 2 would erode the Voting Rights Act even more, undermining key protections against racial discrimination. 

“After decades of relying on the foundational 1965 Voting Rights Act passed during the height of the Civil Rights Movement to protect Black voters, it’s alarming to see it being relentlessly attacked,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “With Congress failing to pass voting rights protections despite the desperate need, it’s more important than ever that New Jersey act.” 

“Many New Jersey voters, especially voters of color, face serious voting challenges, including late poll openings, long lines, barriers to physical access to polls for people with disabilities and lack of language accessibility for those with limited English proficiency. Many find it difficult to access the court when they are disenfranchised,” said Nuzhat Chowdhury, Associate Counsel in the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “A strong New Jersey Voting Rights Act would protect voters of color and strengthen our democracy by reducing these barriers to voting.” 

Specifically, a strong version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act would, among other things, increase language access and assistance for voters, prohibit deceptive practices at the polls and ensure that communities of color will have their ballots counted. 

The Institute today released a fact sheet laying out the case for a New Jersey Voting Rights Act.