Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 21 others sign open letter to the justices

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25, 2012 – In an unprecedented show of international interest in a Supreme Court case, 22 of the world’s most prominent human rights leaders want the justices to know: The whole world is watching. This week the United States Supreme Court hears a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark American civil rights law.

Those leaders, from 22 countries on five continents, including South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, sent an open letter to the Court urging the justices to uphold a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The letter was released prior to the Court’s oral arguments by the Institute for Policy Studies, Alliance for Justice and the NAACP.

“Beyond your borders, the global march toward justice will suffer grievous harm should you surrender to those who seek to disenfranchise American citizens,” the letter says. “We urge you to heed the United States Congress’ judgment that continued federal enforcement of the voting rights guaranty is appropriate and necessary.”

“On Wednesday, the whole world will once again be watching as the Supreme Court deliberates over one of the most fundamental rights for people everywhere: the right of all people to vote,” said John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The Voting Rights Act is the keystone in the arch of protection for people of color in the United States,” said Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. “This letter makes clear that the law also is a beacon of hope for people around the world. We call on this Court to recognize that the Voting Rights Act is as necessary now as it was on the day it became law.”

“Voting is the cornerstone of any democracy,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, “We live in a world of ever-increasing diversity. Every nation, including the United States, must seek the best means of protecting the rights of each minority, regardless of the size of that group. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has proven to be the best tool for ensuring all Americans are full and equal members of our democracy. We must make sure it is always available to ensure the integrity of our elections.”

“The possibility that the conservative wing of the Supreme Court will eviscerate the 1965 Voting Rights Act threatens the ability of Americans of color to freely participate in their government, erasing years of struggle and the sacrifices of many,” said Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP. “The United States would lose whatever standing we have gained in recent years, and our country would be held in ridicule worldwide.”

The court is hearing a challenge to Section 5 of the Act. This part of the law requires certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval before changing voting rules or procedures. Covered jurisdictions that demonstrate a record of applying their voting rules fairly and equitably can apply to be exempted from this provision.

The letter cited recent efforts to restrict voting during the American presidential election, noting that “the widespread efforts to enact new voting restrictions, with known and intended discriminatory effects, confirms that America still has need of flexible federal power to halt new attempts at disenfranchisement.”

The letter was signed by human rights leaders from:
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Republic of Congo
Sierra Leone
South Africa
United Kingdom

● Read the full letter:

● Read more about why we still need the Voting Rights Act

Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. Through our justice programs, we lead the progressive community in the fight for a fair judiciary, and through our advocacy programs, we help nonprofits and foundations to realize their advocacy potential. Learn more about Alliance for Justice at

Institute for Policy Studies ( is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the United States and globally. We work with social movements to promote true democracy and challenge concentrated wealth, corporate influence, and military power.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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