Vanderbilt Law Hosts Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration with Deuel Ross

By Heeba Momen

To kick off Black History Month, Vanderbilt Law hosted Deuel Ross, Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In a wide-ranging discussion with Francesca Procaccini, Ross spoke about voting rights for Americans.

Allen v. Milligan and the “Black Belt”

deuel rossDeuel Ross started the discuss about his role in arguing and winning the voting rights case Allen v. Milligan in the Supreme Court The court ruling ordered the state of Alabama to redraw its congressional map to add a second majority Black district. Ross linked the state’s original 2021 redistricting to the idea of how the “Black Belt” is not adequately represented in Congress. The “Black Belt” refers to a region stretching from Maryland to East Texas, named for the dark hue of the soil and the region’s association with slavery Ross recalled Dr. King’s leadership role in the bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, which is the heart of the Black Belt,” he noted. “The Black Belt has a long history in Alabama, specifically of Civil Rights Activism and, unfortunately, a lack of representation for Black people.”

Section Two

Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination, often noted as the “crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement,” according to Ross. In the case of Allen v. Milligan, the Supreme Court defended Section Two in Allen v. Milligan, affirming its constitutionality. According to Ross, “this case is a rule of law case, but it’s also significant because (the court is) creating these avenues for us to continue to have these options to challenge discriminatory laws.”

The 2024 Presidential Election

mlk lecture - deuel rossRoss noted that the 2024 Presidential election is not just about political campaigns, but the day-to-day mechanics of election administration as well. “We can all do our part; volunteer to be a poll worker, volunteer to work for local civic organizations that do rise to the polls,” he said. He added that taking part in local elections, the city council, or the school board are ways to stay connected to government decisions, even after the presidential election.

Race Equality in America

When asked what came first, segregation or disenfranchisement, Ross believes it was “clearly” disenfranchisement. He described the difficulty in separating the right to vote from “every other issue faced by people of color” and to separate education from the right to vote. “It is difficult to learn the lessons of history if…you are not educated in such matters,” he said. “The right to vote is a fundamental building block for race equality. Americans should see to it that they exercise their right,” he said.

mlk lecture - deuel ross