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Judicial Friends, MBBA celebrate 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act

September 17, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: President of the Judicial Friends Hon. La Tia Martin, Hon. Denny Chin, U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, Hon. Patricia Gatling, former New York state Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, Hon. Paul Wooten, New York State Supreme Court, and Hon. Antonio Brandveen. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Judicial Friends and the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA) got together to commemorate 50 Years of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth at Brooklyn’s federal courthouse on Wednesday.

The event was moderated by Errol Louis of NY1 and featured esteemed panelists, including Hon. Denny Chin, U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, Hon. Patricia Gatling, former New York state Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, President Marc Morial of the National Urban League and Hon. Paul Wooten of the New York State Supreme Court.

“It’s so great to see such a large turnout for the wonderful panel that we have,” said Hon. La Tia Martin, president of the Judicial Friends. “This is just a reminder of where we have come from and what we’ve endured to get where we are at.”

Though the panelists remarked at the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) and how much has changed as a result of it, there was a somber tone throughout much of the event.

“Even though we are here to celebrate those two significant milestones, we still have Eric Garner, we have Michael Brown, we have Freddy Gray, we have James Blake and many others,” said Taa Grays, president of the MBBA. “We as Americans still struggle with racism and prejudice in our society.”

Much of the discussion quickly became about the U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which removed two important provisions from the VRA in 2013.

“When Shelby happened, all of those states that were subject to preclearance passed all those laws quickly and said that they were waiting for clearance,” Gatling said. “We’re going to have another set of problems. Look at the government, how many African-Americans are in the Senate?”

Wooten shared a story of fighting a VRA case in front of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1981, before pointing out some of the benefits many of the people in the room received from it. He added that those benefits have been absent.

“All of the judges here today that have been elected or appointed are the direct descendants of the Voting Rights Act applying to the state of New York,” Wooten explained. “When the Voting Rights Act was first developed it was developed because of the huge mistreatment of African-Americans in the south. Now Shelby v. Holder has wiped that out.”

Morial explained that the VRA was under assault because it was successful and offered up ideas of how to change the Shelby ruling.

“It made a difference, it created preclearance as a tool, it Section 2 as a tool and its success is why it was under such vigorous assault by those who sought to disable it,” Morial said. “And disable it, make no mistake, they’ve done by the Shelby decision so we have a fight in 2015 and beyond to try to repair the damage.”

As the event came to an end, the discussion became focused on what to do next. How can the damage done by the Shelby County v. Holder case be undone? Hon. Deborah Dowling, in her closing remarks, spoke about education being paramount and implored everyone to exercise their right to vote.

“There was a lot said tonight and a lot to think about,” Dowling said. “Voting is an important right for each of us to work for and certainly to exercise because if you fail to vote then, as far as I’m concerned, you have no right to complain because change only comes when you vote.”


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