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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), joined by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, and People for the American Way, filed a brief in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, urging the Supreme Court to reject a constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Section 5, regarded by many as the heart of the Voting Rights Act, both blocks and deters discriminatory voting changes in a select number of jurisdictions around the country. Specifically, Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to submit new proposed voting changes to the Department of Justice or to the D.C. District Court for pre-approval. After careful review of an expansive record, Congress concluded that the Section 5 preclearance provision is still necessary to prevent minority citizens from being deprived of the right to fully participate in our democracy. Accordingly, in 2006, with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress voted to reauthorize Section 5 and President Bush signed the reauthorization into law.
Days after the reauthorization, the Petitioner (a small Austin-based utility district) filed suit challenging the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Act. The Petitioner sought to end its responsibility for having its voting changes reviewed (through what is termed a "bailout") and, more importantly, to have this core provision declared unconstitutional. Last spring, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia unequivocally rejected the Petitioner's claims that it was exempt from the pre-clearance provision, and concluded that Section 5 is constitutional.
LDF's brief provides a thorough review of the extensive legislative record developed by Congress, which vividly demonstrates that pervasive discrimination against minority voters still persists in the jurisdictions that are covered by Section 5. Based on this evidence, LDF concludes that it was well within Congress's authority to renew this core provision of the Act to ensure protection for minority voting rights.
"No statute in our history illustrates America's commitment to inclusive democracy more clearly than the Voting Rights Act, and Section 5 lies at its heart. Since its passage, Section 5 has helped prevent and deter racially discriminatory voting practices that would otherwise deny or abridge our citizen's right to vote," said John Payton, LDF's president and director-counsel.
"In 2006, Congress observed measurable progress in our nation's efforts to ameliorate voting discrimination, but also found substantial, continuing intentional discrimination. In light of the record, Congress reasonably determined that condoning racial discrimination in voting, with knowledge of its effects, and persistence, erodes the promises of our Constitution, of full citizenship, and our enduring commitment to democracy," said Debo Adegbile, LDFs litigation director.
The Petitioner has argued that the election of President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, demonstrates that the country no longer needs a Voting Rights Act. LDF's brief argues that "while the historically significant election of the nation's first African-American president represents a milestone that was not visible in 1965, no event, no matter how significant can instantaneously erase the legacy of Jim Crow and its enduring effects." Moreover, the brief concludes that Section 5 plays a key role in moving the country closer to "the inclusive democracy it strives to become."
This case is one of the most important voting challenges to come before the Supreme Court in recent years. The Court will hear oral argument in the case on April 29th.