Transcript: Obama's Interview With Regional Reporters - Page 9 of 15

Transcript: Obama’s Interview With Regional Reporters

does not — Birmingham —

THE PRESIDENT: I was just about to say, the — don’t I have some Birmingham people in my Cabinet? (Laughter.)

Q Well, Gibbs is from Auburn.

THE PRESIDENT: There you go, it’s close. (Laughter.)

Q The Voting Rights Act, as you know, does not apply — especially section 5 — does not apply to the entire country. The South is still required to get pre-clearance for election-related changes. There’s an argument in Alabama and I think some other Southern states that they’ve sort of outgrown that; they no longer need that close scrutiny from the Justice Department to make those kinds of sometimes very simply changes. I know in 2006 you supported reauthorization, but do you still think the South needs this close supervision of Justice on — under section 5?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I got to be careful here because I’m a law professor so I may get too deep on the weeds on this stuff, get —

Q No, try it. Go for it. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: But the idea behind section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is that if there are discriminatory barriers to voting, that the Justice Department has some mechanism to actually deal with it; that you don’t just leave it up to the states to self-correct, but that you’ve got some basis for intervention.

The most obvious kinds of violations don’t happen very often these days — the classic being sort of the poll tax or the county clerk who just turns away African American voters. That’s not really the key issue in the Voting Rights Act these days.

Typically, the issues that come up now have to do with whether there is a meaningful opportunity to select a candidate of your choice. If you’ve got a situation in which there is very racially polarized voting and you’ve got — you know, 30 percent of the population is Hispanic or African American and the rest is majority white and it’s a polarized part of the country and you’ve got at-large voting systems, well, it’s conceivable that on a city council or a county board, you’d never have any African Americans or Hispanics on that board.

So that’s what section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does, is to try to pre-clear, see if there are any changes in the voting systems that would prevent people from exercising a meaningful vote.

The key concept I think in judging whether or not a jurisdiction still should be jumping through that hoop is probably the degree to which there are still highly racially polarized voting — under the parlance, racial black vote. And, you know, there are probably some parts of the south that were under section 5, that if you looked at the data are no longer that polarized. There are other parts that are probably still very polarized.

So I think it’s the task of the courts to look — and Congress, in future reauthorizations — to look at the evidence and to see is that kind of polarization still taking place. And is that — you know, it’s not enough