Stacie B. Royster Miller
U.S. Supreme Court Leaves Vital Voter Protection in Place
The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased the Court left Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in place
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a key Voting Rights Act provision when it ruled that all local units of government must be able to bailout of coverage in an eight to one ruling and did not reach the issue of the constitutionality of Section 5. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, together with the law firm of WilmerHale represented the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and Austin Branch of the NAACP in the case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, Case No. 08-322.
“The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased that Section 5 of Voting Rights Act will continue to protect the rights of minority voters as it has for the last forty-four years,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We will remain vigilant and use every resource at our disposal to defend the Act against any future attacks,” Arnwine continued.
The continuing need for Section 5 was clearly illustrated by the work of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act in 2005. Established by the Lawyers’ Committee, the Commission held 10 regional hearings covering practically every state in the union, and built an exhaustive record of discrimination in voting for Congress. The Commission report found that, while evidence of the VRA’s positive impact is clear, racial and language minorities are still vulnerable to historic tactics and new devices designed to dissuade and disfranchise. Minorities face unequal access to the ballot ranging from voting barriers to challenges electing representatives of their choice.
“Because of Section 5 our nation has made much progress towards realizing Dr. King’s dream of equal access to the ballot box for all citizens,” said Jon Greenbaum, legal director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Now that this case is decided, we will work with Congress and the Administration to mitigate the damage left by the Court’s decision in Bartlett v. Strickland, that greatly restricted the ability of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect minority voting strength during redistricting,” Greenbaum continued.
The rejection of discriminatory voter registration verification programs in Georgia is the most recent example of the continued importance of Section 5. During last year’s elections, the Lawyers’ Committee’s Election Protection leaders discovered that the state had implemented procedures that were erroneously flagging the registrations of thousands of predominantly minority voters as ineligible. The Lawyers’ Committee and its partners immediately filed suit against the Georgia Secretary of State because the changes had not received Section 5 preclearance. A three-judge district court panel blocked the implementation of the procedures. In May the Department of Justice rejected Georgia’s voting rules because the state could not prove that the procedures did not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.