Alabama case threatens to have ‘heart’ of VRA declared unconstitutional
(New York) – Yesterday the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a brief in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of two core provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The law requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have voting changes reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice or D.C. District Court to ensure they are free from discrimination.
LDF’s brief asks the District Court for the District of Columbia to deny Alabama’s motion for summary judgment –which seeks to have the Section 5 preclearance provision declared unconstitutional based on recycled arguments that have been rejected previously. Instead, LDF asks the court to grant its motion for summary judgment on the grounds that a detailed Congressional record demonstrates that ongoing discrimination remains pervasive in those states and jurisdictions around the country where Section 5 applies.
Section 5 was reauthorized by an overwhelming majority of Congress in 2006, and the Supreme Court issued an 8-to-1 ruling in an earlier constitutional challenge that left Section 5’s important protections intact in a case argued by LDF.
“Shelby County, Alabama is the latest challenge brought by opponents who seek to have a core provision of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional based on arguments that have been soundly rejected. But, the facts speak for themselves. There is a long, detailed and thoroughly examined record that shows widespread and ongoing discrimination in many parts of the country,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.
In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan and failed to seek federal review of the plan as it is required to do under Section 5, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery, who was the preferred candidate of African American voters. Eventually, through enforcement of Section 5, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery, one of the clients represented by LDF in this case, regained his seat. This result allowed Black voters to assert their preference at the ballot box.
“Shelby County, Alabama’s bold attempt to strike down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act must fail because their claims do not comport with the reality faced by minority voters around the country,” said Kristen Clarke, Co-Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. Clarke observed that “this case seeks to extinguish Section 5 on the brink of the period when its protections have been needed most – during redistricting when discrimination against minority voters has historically been widespread and rampant.”