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Supreme Court Will Decide Whether to Strike Down the Heart of Voting Rights Act

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Friday, November 9, 2012

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Warns of Clear and Persisting Threats to Minority Voter Access and Equality

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by Shelby County, Alabama that challenges the constitutionality of the heart of the Voting Rights Act. 

The case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, involves a challenge to the federal “preclearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states and jurisdictions with some of the worst histories of voting discrimination, such as Alabama, to have all voting changes reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice or D.C. District Court to ensure they are free from discrimination. 

“The Supreme Court has an unbroken series of rulings rejecting constitutional challenges to the Voting Rights Act. What has changed since these rulings is that we have experienced a surprisingly intense effort to place new barriers in the path of minority voters.  In 2006 Congress and the President recognized that even in the face of progress, there is very strong evidence that more work must be done to ensure equal voting opportunity.  In light of our history and recent voting experience, it would be an extraordinary judicial act for the Court to cast aside the sound judgment that America can and must do more to ensure equality. We expect that the Court will carefully consider the substantial record of continuing voting discrimination in many parts of the country that led Congress to extend the Voting Rights Act’s important protections” said Debo P. Adegbile, Acting President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF), which intervened in the case on behalf of African-American community leaders and voters in Shelby County. “In the midst of the recent assault on voter access, the Voting Rights Act is playing a pivotal role beating back discriminatory voting measures."

Mr. Adegbile argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, the last time the Court considered the constitutionality of the heart of the Voting Rights Act. That case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, resulted in an 8-to-1 ruling that left Section 5 intact. 

In rejecting Shelby County’s challenge in May, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Congress, relying on a 16,000 page record, appropriately extended the protections of the preclearance requirement in 2006 for 25 more years. As the Court explained:  “After thoroughly scrutinizing the record and given that overt racial discrimination persists in covered jurisdictions notwithstanding decades of section 5 preclearance, we, like the district court, are satisfied that Congress’s judgment deserves judicial deference.”

In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan without complying with the Voting Rights Act, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery. Because of the Voting Rights Act, however, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and to conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat. Mr. Montgomery is among the community leaders that LDF is representing in this case.

Please see “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America,” a report co-authored by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP.