Nina Perales

  • February 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Alabama officials will take to the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27 to try to gut the Voting Rights Act’s integral enforcement provision, Section 5. And their argument, what the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Simon Lazarus calls the “goofy gripe,” rests largely on the claims that racial discrimination in voting happens everywhere and so why pick on certain states.

    Lazarus notes, however, that just last year the Voting Rights prime enforcement provision was employed by the Justice Department to scuttle “vote suppression techniques familiar to all who followed the 2012 campaign: stringent voter ID laws, curtailed early voting opportunities, and discriminatorily rigged redistricting plans.”

    But the Alabama officials’ arguments are more than goofy, they’re ludicrous. There’s a reason why Section 5 remains relevant, because tawdry, bigoted attempts to deny minorities the right to vote remain the most intense in specific states and localities.

    First let’s start with some basics. The Constitution’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments bar the states from depriving citizens of liberty and from denying the right to vote to minorities. Moreover, both amendments include sections granting Congress, not the courts, the power to craft appropriate legislation to enforce the promise of both Amendments.

    When Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act it determined that some states and localities, mostly in the South, had much deeper and more intense histories of oppressing African Americans, including keeping them away from the polls. So Congress included a rather strong enforcement mechanism, Section 5, which would require those covered jurisdictions to obtain “preclearance” for any changes to their voting procedures from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. In 2006 Congress in bipartisan fashion overwhelmingly reauthorized Section 5 for another 25 years, after amassing a voluminous record showing that the covered jurisdictions by far remained the most fertile ground for racial discrimination in voting. The evidence was that although progress had been made in the South, there remained a stubborn bigotry resulting in ongoing efforts to suppress the minority vote.

    During an ACS panel discussion this week on the case challenging Section 5, Shelby County v. Holder, several panelists noted stories from Texas, Alabama and other covered jurisdictions of “serial” efforts to suppress or dilute the vote of minorities. For example in 2008 Alabama officials, as NAACP LDF’s Ryan P. Haygood recounted, sought to implement a discriminatory redistricting plan to drastically reduce the sole majority black district in the state by creating hundreds of annexations, without obtaining preclearance. When the Justice Department did review the redistricting plan, it was rejected as discriminatory. Nonetheless the officials held the election with the discriminatory redistricting scheme and the DOJ lodged a Section 5 enforcement action undoing the election and requiring another election to be held. (LDF is representing voters in Alabama in the Shelby County case; for more on Section 5 and Shelby County see ACS’s Voting Rights Resources page.) Video of panel discussion is below or here.

     

  • December 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The 2010 elections highlighted the strident efforts of some state lawmakers to make it much more difficult for people to vote, especially for minorities, low-income people, the elderly and college students. Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among the states that created and tried to implement voting laws requiring strict voter IDs, limiting early voting times and hampering voter registration drives.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee today conducted a hearing on the state of voting rights after the elections and against the backdrop of another challenge to an integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Beyond bringing stories of what the new restrictive measures wrought, several witnesses provided passionate defenses of the importance of the landmark civil rights law.

    Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states, many in the South, and counties and other localities across the country to obtain “preclearance” of changes to their voting laws from a federal court in Washington, D.C. or the Department of Justice. The states and localities required to win preclearance are those with long histories of suppressing the vote of minorities. (Shelby County, Ala., officials in a case the Supreme Court will hear this term argue that racial discrimination in voting is a thing of the past and should be invalidated. Like several of the Judiciary Committee witnesses, many argue that Sec. 5 is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and works to block discrimination before it occurs.)

    Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Charles Crist, former governor or Florida, testifying today before the Judiciary Committee, said the last few years in the state have not “been so forward thinking.”

  • August 29, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In its ruling yesterday rejecting several new Texas voting districts, a federal court in Washington, D.C. blasted the efforts of Texas lawmakers as seeking to suppress the vote of Latinos.

    Janell Ross for The Huffington Post noted that the federal court’s opinion provided a “sharply worded” and exhaustive account of “Texas officials’ plans to draw districts for four new congressional seats created by the state’s booming Latino population that were almost certain to elect Congress members preferred by white Republican voters. And it’s a ruling that should serve as a cautionary tale, according to voting rights advocates.”

    Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), told Ross, “For other states thinking of doing anything to dilute the [power] of their minority voters or their fast-growing minority populations, this not just a warning. This is a warning in the strongest terms.”

    Indeed as noted on this blog yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that Texas lawmakers failed badly in proving that their redistricting plans did not violate Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act applies to states and localities with a history of discriminating against classes of voters, and requires those jurisdictions to get preclearance for redistricting from the Department of Justice or a federal court.

    In State of Texas v. U.S. the federal court said Texas failed to show that its new voting maps would not discriminate against voters on “account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

    MALDEF, which intervened on behalf of Latino voters to challenge the state’s new voting schemes, said the federal court had found the state’s congressional plan was created with “discriminatory racial intent,” and its State House redistricting plan undercut “voting strength,” while the state Senate redistricting plan “was enacted with discriminatory racial intent.”