The Supreme Court made ‘a mistake in its ruling,’ when it struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, President Barack Obama said Thursday.
“I might not be here as president had it not been for those who courageously helped to pass the Voting Rights Act,” the president said at a press conference from Africa. “I think the Supreme Court didn’t recognize the degree to which voter suppression is still a problem around the country.”
The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on Tuesday. The law required certain states with a history of discrimination to have voter laws pre-approved by the federal government. Section 4 dictates the formula to select those states, but the court ruled the 1965 formula was out of date and therefore unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court punted the law to Congress, requesting it set a new formula for which to monitor voting rights laws. Critics of the ruling say it may be impossible to pass a law through the partisan legislature.
That pre-approval is crucial to voting rights, the president said, because it prevented discriminatory voter laws from being enacted.
“The election may be over by the time lawsuits are filed or a court rules and oftentimes, it may be too late,” he said.
Obama went on to press Congress to protect voters rights.
“Having said that, the Supreme Court has ruled and Congress can’t overturn this particular aspect of their ruling. The good news is that there are other potential remedies,” he said. “That everyone around the country is not seeing seven-hour lines, [and that] around the country we’re not seeing mechanisms that make it harder for people to vote. But rather, we should have mechanisms that make it easier for people to vote. That is within Congress’ power.”
In the last week of its term, the high court also issued two historic decisions on gay rights Wednesday. It overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman–a 1996 rule the Obama administration had stopped defending. A second decision paved the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California. Obama praised both decisions when the they came down.
He called the ruling “not simply a victory for the LGBT community but a victory for American democracy,” during the press conference in Africa.
The president acknowledged that thorny bureaucratic issues remain in order to ensure married gay couples will have access to the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples, but vowed to do so.
“My personal belief, but I’m speaking now as president as opposed to as a lawyer, is that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move somewhere else, you’re still married,” he said. “Under federal law you should be able to obtain benefits of any lawfully married couple.”