The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of our nation’s most effective federal civil rights statutes. Shelby County, Alabama has filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is widely regarded as the heart of the legislation. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is intervening in the case on behalf of African-American residents of Shelby County whose voting rights are directly impacted by the county’s challenge.
Section 5 serves as our democracy’s discrimination checkpoint by requiring jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to submit proposed voting changes for federal approval before they are enacted to ensure that they are free from discrimination. This is commonly referred to as the “Section 5 preclearance” process.
Shelby County has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case following a May 2012 ruling by a federal court that upheld the constitutionality of Section 5. In rejecting Shelby County’s challenge, Judge Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 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.”
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. In compliance with Section 5, however, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat.
The lawsuit challenging Section 5 was filed by Shelby County less than one year after LDF successfully defended its constitutionality before the Supreme Court in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. LDF has intervened to, once again, defend the Voting Rights Act.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder on February 27, 2013.