(Special to The Root) — When our clients from Shelby County, Ala., arrived at the Washington, D.C., offices of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund the night before Supreme Court oral argument in the case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, they had a lot to say. They had stories to tell about how the same white leaders who have held on to power for decades continue to control the access to political power in that county. Lifelong Shelby County residents, several Baptist ministers and one city councilman who lost his seat when, as a result of redistricting, the black population in his district was reduced from 70 percent to 29 percent, they told stories about how life is lived by blacks in small towns all over the South.
They came all the way up from Alabama, they said, to see for themselves what the Supreme Court would do. Would the court uphold Congress’ 2006 decision to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act? That provision requires certain states and local jurisdictions to submit any proposed voting changes to the Department of Justice for preclearance before they can be implemented.
Congress enacted the provision to ensure that minority voting rights would be protected in districts with consistent records of voting discrimination. So, for example, when a district in Mississippi planned to move a polling place out of the black community to a location in the white community that had historically been a meeting place for white racists, the Department of Justice denied the local jurisdiction permission to move the polling place.