Supreme Court to Examine Constitutionality of Dysfunctional Section of Voting Rights Act
Black Conservatives Welcome Bringing Nearly 50-Year-Old Law Based on 50-Year-Old Presumptions Into the 21st Century
Project 21 Black Leadership Network Joined Court Brief Supporting Challenge
Washington, D.C. - By agreeing today to examine the constitutionality of an outdated portion of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Supreme Court is stepping in where Congress shirked its responsibility, say black conservatives with the Project 21 black leadership network.
The case is Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder, Jr.
"We applaud the Supreme Court for agreeing to hear a case that will impact local municipalities and their ability to ensure that the electoral process fits the needs of their communities and is done to in an efficient and timely manner," says Project 21 co-chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon. "It was not the intent of the Voting Rights Act to keep preclearance suspicions in place for generations. The Court now has the opportunity to reform the Act and reduce this suspicion so that people are judged equally."
Project 21 joined an amicus curie ("friend of the court") brief urging the Court to accept the case. That brief was authored by the Pacific Legal Foundation and joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity.
In the case, Shelby County officials ask the Court to invalidate "preclearance" standards imposed on specific states and localities by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Premised on discriminatory behavior practiced during the 1964 elections, these standards require any voting procedure changes in affected states and localities first receive federal approval (no matter how minor).
Described at the time as an "extreme temporary measure," Congress has repeatedly failed to address changing demographics and the evolution of American society during reauthorizations of the Act. As noted in Project 21's brief: "Today, Section 5 continues to place only certain state and local governments under a form of federal receivership, often without rhyme or reason. However, the ‘insidious and pervasive evil' of racism in the Deep South, which once justified Section 5's uniquely burdensome remedy, has greatly diminished."
Shelby County officials sued the federal government to be unburdened of the onerous process of applying and waiting for federal approval of minor and popularly-supported actions. It is not their intention to have the Court overturn the Voting Rights Act, but merely to remedy the "dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states" caused by Section 5's preclearance mandate.
Noting the changes in American society since the passage of the Voting Rights Act almost 50 years ago, the Project 21-affiliated brief states: "[T]he unconscionable and deliberate vote suppression tactics that were implemented by governments in the Deep South in 1965, and which were the sole justification for the temporary intrusiveness of Section 5, have been eradicated... While the intrusiveness of Section 5 is suspect as an initial matter, it is significantly more so when the states and jurisdictions subjected to its burdens cannot be reconciled by contemporary voting or discrimination statistics."
A ruling on the constitutionality of preclearance standards is extremely relevant beyond the Shelby County complaint because the mandate was used by the Obama Administration to challenge voter ID laws this year in the preclearance states of Texas and South Carolina. The legality of photo ID protections at polling places was previously upheld by the Court in the 2008 case of Crawford v. Marion County, but preclearance rules preclude this legal precedent.
Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper, a former law professor and top congressional aide, said: "Today, the Supreme Court has moved us one step closer to ending unfair federal interference of local election laws. Absent a showing of discriminatory intent, cities and states should not have to get permission for every proposed election law change. Election violations and suppression have changed from 50 years ago, and so should the laws governing dealing with it."
A copy of the brief that Project 21 joined is available for at http://blog.pacificlegal.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Shelby-petition-brief.pdf.
Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for nearly two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (http://www.nationalcenter.org).