A Reminder that Every Vote Matters
By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Members of Brooklyn’s legal community gathered at the borough’s Family Courthouse to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the event was a part of a national Law Day celebration, the theme could not have been more opportune.
“This is the 50th anniversary of what’s left of the Voting Rights Act,” said Hon. Alan Beckoff, chair of the 2014 Family Court Law Day celebration. Beckoff was referring to last year’s United States Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act. In the Shelby decision, the high court ruled that primary functions of the act that made states subject to federal approval—or preclearance—before making changes to their voting laws cannot be enforced unless Congress comes up with an up to date formula for deciding which states still need federal monitoring. The justices said in 5-4 vote that the law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.
“The United States Supreme Court severely weakened the Voting Rights Act,” Beckoff noted, citing examples as recent as 2010 in which New York City and state were complacent in restricting voters.
“To understand voting in this country, we need to go back in history,” said Mina Malik, special counsel to Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Thompson was slated as the morning’s keynote speaker, but was unable to attend the event. That people have fought so hard for the right to vote “is a very brutal and ugly fact that we have to face,” Malik said as she recounted stories of noted voting rights activists, including Medgar Evers, for a whom a Brooklyn college is named.
Looking forward to the future achievements and successes, Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Probation, Gineen Gray, presented the Probation Recognition Award to Jacob Sepulveda. “We don’t want our children to survive, we want them to thrive,” said Gray.
Students of the Urban Assembly for Law and Justice—who now sit in the former Family Court building—were given awards for their exceptional Law Day essays. “[These Acts] gave people more control in what’s happening in their community,” said Parjana Ahammed as she read from her winning essay.
Family Court took the time to, for the first time ever, recognize court staff for their “dedicated service to the court,” as noted by Captain John Posillipo.
Serving as entertainment were Family Court Sergeant Fannelle Collette, Keith Sammut and Glenn Spivack. With a smooth singing voice, Collete musically brought the audience to the civil rights era with musical selections such as “A Change is Gonna Come” and “People Get Ready.”
The music really “brings home what today’s message is all about,” said Family Court Supervising Judge Jeanette Ruiz. “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” Ruiz said as she closed out the event quoting noted civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.