Hannity: Selma's John Legend “Doesn't Know Anything” About Voting Rights

Fox Host Gets Voting Rights Act And Voter ID Wrong In Attack On Legend's Oscars Speech

Fox News Host Sean Hannity is criticizing singer John Legend's Oscars speech, which invoked the civil rights movement and the ongoing fight for racial and social justice. In response to Legend's completely accurate statement that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is under attack today, Hannity disagreed and appeared to argue that the seminal civil rights law was irrelevant to strict voter ID laws.

On February 22, Legend and co-writer Common won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Glory,” from the film Selma, a historical drama about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s fight for equal voting rights. In his acceptance speech, Legend noted that the civil rights struggle represented in the movie continues “right now”: “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now, in this country, today.”

On the February 23 edition of his show, Hannity complained that Legend “decided to make all things political.” Even though Legend didn't explicitly bring up voter ID laws in his speech, Hannity went on to suggest that it was inappropriate for Legend to “equate the Voting Rights Act with showing an ID to get to vote so we can keep honesty and integrity in our elections ... I like John Legend as a musician, but he doesn't know anything about politics”:

But Legend is absolutely correct when he says that the Voting Rights Act “is being compromised right now,” and it's Hannity who is flat wrong.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which required states that had a history of racially discriminatory voting practices to secure “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before making changes to their election rules. Just days after that decision, states that had previously been subject to preclearance began introducing unnecessarily restrictive voter ID laws, despite the fact that in-person voter fraud -- the only kind of election fraud that these laws would prevent -- is virtually nonexistent. Right-wing media and activists are now looking to challenge the constitutionality of the remainder of the Voting Right Act's enforcement mechanism, as part of their continued assault on over fifty years of civil rights precedent.

As for the relation between the law and strict voter ID, contrary to Hannity's assertions, this form of redundant identification has always been subject to the Voting Rights Act and still is litigated under this statute.  

The Voting Rights Act prohibits election procedures that discriminate against voters on the basis of race, color, or language minority status -- that's why it makes sense to “equate” it with identification requirements that courts have repeatedly found to violate these protections. Moreover, voting rights advocates currently challenging the legality of strict voter ID laws argue that not only do such laws violate the Voting Rights Act, they are also unconstitutional. At least one federal judge has agreed, calling Texas' voter ID law an “unconstitutional poll tax” that “has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

Hannity's segment is just the latest in a long line of misleading segments from Fox News on voting rights, whose viewers are far more likely to believe that voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter suppression -- despite the exact opposite being true. His segment wasn't even the first Fox attack on Legend's support for the Voting Rights Act. On the February 23 edition of Outnumbered, correspondent Jesse Watters claimed that “black voter participation has actually gone up” in states that have passed voter ID laws, an observation that completely fails "Statistics 101."

Photo of Common and John Legend via screengrab/The Oscars