The American Bar Association's "Law Day" and the right to vote

Each year, the American Bar Association helps celebrate "Law Day." The theme for Law Day 2014 is "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters."

Planning materials to celebrate Law Day on May 1 are available from the ABA.

The ABA has a planning guide (PDF). Here are some excerpts.

Shelby County v. Holder

The ABA guide explains (p. 9):

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the Voting Rights Act's key provision, which required several states to receive preclearance from the federal government before implementing voting changes, was invalid. The Court reasoned that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance because they had a history of discrimination was out of date.

The first sentence is not precise; the second is. Granted, because the preclearance formula of Section 4 fell, the preclearance remedy under Section 5 was a nullity. But the Court did not conclude that Section 5's preclearance remedial scheme was invalid. (Indeed, only Justice Thomas, speaking for himself, has written opinions to that effect.)

The ABA guide then (pp. 10-11) quotes from the majority and the dissenting opinion. It offers space for 29 words from the majority, and 146 words from the dissent.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said: "Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions."

Dissenting, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: "The sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself. The same assumption—that the problem could be solved when particular methods of voting discrimination are identified and eliminated—was indulged and proved wrong repeatedly prior to the VRA’s enactment. Unlike prior statutes, which singled out particular tests or devices, the VRA is grounded in Congress' recognition of the 'variety and persistence' measures designed to impair minority voting rights. In truth, the evolution of voting discrimination into more subtle second-generation barriers is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclearance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent backsliding."

Bush v. Gore, Bush v. Kerry

The guide also offers historical trivia, such as this detail about the 2000 presidential election (p. 12):

In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore received 50,999,897 popular votes, while George W. Bush 50,456,002. Bush received 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266. The result of the election was not final until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its controversial ruling in Bush v. Gore.

The guide also recommends a series of resources, such as books or movies about the right to vote. One resource it recommends (p. 34) is the movie Stealing America: Vote by Vote (2008). A Salon review describes the movie as follows:

I don’t mind that Dorothy Fadiman’s film “Stealing America: Vote by Vote” raises once again the massively vexed question of whether the 2004 presidential election was fixed. That spectral possibility lingers in many people’s minds, retains at least a general outline of plausibility and, thanks to the electronic voting systems in use in so much of the country, can never be conclusively proven or disproven. I do mind, though, that “Stealing America” is a clumsy if well-intentioned work of recycled propaganda, a mixture of hard evidence, random anecdote and far-flung inference that may convince some viewers that a clear verdict can be rendered on that impossibly murky event.

Lessons for Children

Here's how the ABA guide for students in Grades 6-8 (p. 53) describes Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; of note, it does not mention the First Amendment.

In the 2010 landmark case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled to allow corporations and unions to use their general treasuries to pay for political advertisements that clearly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

As a result, the 2012 presidential election was the first time in over 60 years that outside groups, super Political Action Committees, were allowed to raise and spend their own unlimited funds to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, and then spend unlimited sums to directly advocate for or against political candidates. They are not allowed to contribute to the candidate directly or coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

The exercises for older students tie voter identification laws to pre-Voting Rights Act registration forms. In one lesson (pp. 55-59), students are asked to complete a 1964 voter registration form from Alabama. Students are then asked to consider how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed things. In the second part of the exercise, students are asked:

Question for students:

  • Are there barriers to voting today?
  • What are some of the barriers that exist today?

Introduce students to topic of voter ID laws. Have students brainstorm reasons or arguments for supporting these laws and reasons for not supporting them.

Voter ID Laws

Since 2001, a new wave of voter ID bills have been proposed in 46 states. These proposed bills would require in most cases official photo identification such as a driver’s license or state ID before casting their vote in elections.

The final lesson guide for high school students is entitled "Voter Suppression." The exercise opens with the following political cartoon:


The recommended PowerPoint (PPT) and lesson guide begins with the March on Washington in 1963. The guide takes students through a 1960s literacy test, a pre-Voting Rights Act poll tax and grandfather clause, the intimidation at Selma in 1965, and English-only ballots. It then asks students to consider today's "voter suppression," "voter ID laws," "registration limits," and "early voting curbs," as the cartoon recommends.

That's "Law Day 2014," from the American Bar Association.