On June 22, 2009, the Supreme Court released its opinion, in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, Case No. 08-322. In an 8-1 decision, the Court declined to reach the question of the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, leaving the crucial piece of voter protection in place. Instead the Court narrowly ruled for the plaintiff, interpreting the “bailout” provision to apply to all political subdivisions.
The principal question in this case was the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5, widely recognized as one of the most effective civil rights laws ever passed by Congress, requires federal review before new voting procedures can be used in states with histories of discriminatory voting practices. The utility district, located in Travis County, Texas, sought to be exempted from Section 5 coverage via the so-called “bailout” provision of the Voting Rights Act, or, in the alternative, to have the 2006-reauthorized Section 5 declared unconstitutional. The Texas State Conference of the NAACP and Austin Branch of the NAACP intervened in the case as defendants, along with other interested organizations. A three-judge panel of the D.C. Federal District Court dismissed the utility district’s case, ruling that the district was ineligible to “bail out” from Section 5 coverage, and more importantly, that Section 5 remains constitutional. The utility district then appealed to the Supreme Court. On June 22, 2009 the Court reversed the district court’s ruling, and found that the “bailout” provision applies to all local governments, but declined to rule on the constitutionality of Section 5.
Documents and Other Information
- Click here for our June 22 press release on the Court’s decision.
- Click here for our April 29 press release about the Supreme Court arguments.
- Click here for our March press release announcing the filing of our brief.
- Click here for the Lawyers’ Committee’s brief.
- Click here to read the District Court’s opinion dismissing the utility district’s case.