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LDF Successfully Defends the Heart of the Voting Rights Act

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5/18/12

(New York, NY)  Today, for the second time in the past year, a federal court in Washington, D.C. upheld the constitutionality of the heart of the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.  

The case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, involved a challenge to the Section 5 “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.   

In rejecting this challenge, Judge Tatel, writing for the majority, ruled that Congress appropriately extended the protections of the preclearance requirement in 2006 for 25 more years:  “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.”

“Today’s ruling is the latest in an unbroken line of cases upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act’s most effective protection,” said Debo P. Adegbile, LDF Interim President and Director-Counsel.  “Some have questioned whether the protection is still needed.  The recent efforts to suppress minority voters make it crystal clear that we still need this core voter protection.  Section 5 promotes political inclusion against persisting attempts to practice exclusion.”

In the face of substantial evidence showing continued efforts to discriminate against minority voters, Section 5 was reauthorized by a bi-partisan majority of Congress in 2006.  More recently, in a 2009 case argued by LDF, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, the Supreme Court issued an 8-to-1 ruling that left Section 5’s important protections intact. 

LDF intervened in the Shelby County case to defend Section 5 on behalf of several African American community leaders and voters in Shelby County, including Councilman Ernest Montgomery.  In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan without complying with Section 5, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery.  Because of Section 5, however, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat.

 “Section 5’s critical role as our democracy’s discrimination check point is as vital as ever,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group.  “Right now, even as it is under attack, the Voting Rights Act is preventing discriminatory redistricting schemes like the one at issue in this case, and voting measures strategically launched in advance of the 2012 elections from being implemented.  Without Section 5, there would be more discrimination.”