WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday questioned whether a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act is outdated, expressing skepticism about using evidence of racial discrimination from 40 or 50 years ago to justify continued election monitoring for a group of mostly Southern states.
“We’re now looking at a situation where that information is at least 45 years out of date, and by the time the 2006 extension of the Voting Rights Act runs its course it will be 70 years,” he said. “That wouldn’t seem to be a current coverage formula, would it?”
Justice Department attorneys, supported by lawyers for several civil rights groups, responded that Congress extended the law with overwhelming majorities based on evidence that racial discrimination continues today. The new forms of discrimination – while more subtle – are most common in the jurisdictions with the most checkered racial pasts, they argued.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, for example, points to a recent case in Calera, Ala., a fast-growing city in Shelby County, south of Birmingham. The city eliminated its only black-majority city council district when it redrew the district lines in 2006. After the change, Calera’s only African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery, lost his seat. But citing the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department under President George W. Bush voided the election and required Calera to redraw the boundaries, restoring the black-majority district. Montgomery was re-elected.