by Jeremy Leaming
In 2006 when Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized Section 5, the major enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, it did so “at the height of its powers in regulating the intersecting areas of voting, race, and political rights,” a bipartisan group of congressmen state in a brief lodged in Shelby County v. Holder.
On Feb. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the Shelby County case. Section 5 requires certain states and localities with deep histories of racial discrimination in voting to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before making changes to voting procedures. Officials in Shelby County, Ala., lodged the lawsuit arguing that Section 5 is no longer needed. The officials, with the support of the state’s attorney general, argue that racial discrimination in voting is largely a thing of the past and therefore state officials should not need the federal government’s approval of changes to voting procedures.
As noted on this blog, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), representing some voters in Alabama, is battling those claims in defense of the landmark law. (Other civil liberties groups are also urging the Supreme Court to uphold Section 5. To see some briefs and more information about the VRA, visit ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resource Page.)
The friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-V.A.) and Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), also urges the high court to show judicial restraint and uphold Section 5. The group of House Judiciary Committee members served as leadership during the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5. The group details the process of creating a voluminous congressional record that supported the ongoing need for the VRA’s Section 5.
Rep. Sensenbrenner in a press statement announcing the brief called the VRA “the crown jewel of the civil rights laws” that should be “ardently” defended. Rep. Conyers said Section 5 “remains critical to enforcing the constitutional rights of all voters, especially for voters in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.”