Some residents in the state of Alabama don’t want to go back in time. Alabama’s ugly history of racial disparity, bigoted Jim Crow practices of separatism and voting discrimination remains a stain on the state’s blotter. That’s why when a challenge arose to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came into play, those residents and the NAACP struck back.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a brief in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of two core provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The law requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have voting changes reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice or D.C. District Court to ensure they are free from discrimination.
At issue is the fact that states with a history of voting discrimination has to get the green light from the Justice Department before it can change any election laws. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alaska, Arizona and Virginia are all covered by this decree. Michigan, California, Florida, New Hampshire, New York and South Dakota have some counties under this federal mandate.
The most notorious state when it comes to voter disenfranchisement is Alabama, where the Civil Rights era turned after three historic marches. The most notable being the “Bloody Sunday” march on March, 7, 1965. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be signed into law in August that year by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
LDF’s brief asks the District Court for the District of Columbia to deny Alabama’s motion for summary judgment –which seeks to have the Section 5 preclearance provision declared unconstitutional based on recycled arguments that have been rejected previously. Instead, LDF asks the court to grant its motion for summary judgment on the grounds that a detailed Congressional record demonstrates that ongoing discrimination remains pervasive in those states and jurisdictions around the country where Section 5 applies.
Section 5 was reauthorized by an overwhelming majority of Congress in 2006, and the Supreme Court issued an 8-to-1 ruling in an earlier constitutional challenge that left Section 5’s important protections intact in a case argued by LDF.
“Shelby County, Alabama is the latest challenge brought by opponents who seek to have a core provision of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional based on arguments that have been soundly rejected. But, the facts speak for themselves. There is a long, detailed and thoroughly examined record that shows widespread and ongoing discrimination in many parts of the country,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.
In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan and failed to seek federal review of the plan as it is required to do under Section 5, leading to the loss of the city’s sole African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery, who was the preferred candidate of African American voters.
Eventually, through enforcement of Section 5, Calera was required to draw a nondiscriminatory redistricting plan and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery, one of the clients represented by LDF in this case, regained his seat. This result allowed Black voters to assert their preference at the ballot box.
“Shelby County, Alabama’s bold attempt to strike down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act must fail because their claims do not comport with the reality faced by minority voters around the country,” said Kristen Clarke, Co-Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. Clarke observed that “this case seeks to extinguish Section 5 on the brink of the period when its protections have been needed most – during redistricting when discrimination against minority voters has historically been widespread and rampant.”
The Senate (98-0) and the House of Representatives (390-33) voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another 25 years.