VRA

  • November 7, 2014

    by Abbie Kamin, Legal Research & Communications Associate for the Lone Star Project and Field Director for the Campaign Legal Center’s Voter ID Assistance Pilot Program in Harris County, TX.

    Tuesday’s Election was a loss for voting rights throughout the country. While countless citizens could not vote because of the implementation of discriminatory voting laws, one can only hope these experiences in Tuesday’s election will galvanize the civil rights community to push even harder to breath life back into the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Until Congress amends the VRA, costly and time-consuming state-by-state litigation will be the key to protecting the right to vote.

    Discriminatory voting laws have already been enacted in several states via highly restrictive voter photo-ID requirements. Because these restrictive laws are working, effectively preventing many citizens from voting, we will likely see an increase in these types of laws

    We have seen first-hand here in Texas the enactment of suppressive voting measures by our state legislature, leading to separate court findings of intentional discrimination by the State on three different measures: congressional redistricting, state senate redistricting, and voter photo ID (SB 14). Texas has been at the forefront of recent efforts to discriminate against minority voters.

  • February 26, 2013
    Guest Post


    by Steven D. Schwinn, associate professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and an editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    When the Supreme Court takes up the Voting Rights Act case this week, Shelby County v. Holder, the Justices will focus on this question: Whether Congress had authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to require certain jurisdictions to gain federal preclearance before making any changes to their election laws.  But lurking in the background of the Question Presented is a curious nod to federalism.  Thus the Court will ask if Congress exceeded its authority, then did it violate the Tenth Amendment and Article IV—provisions that, according to the petitioner, protect states’ rights.

    We might wonder where this federalism concern comes from.  After all, neither the Tenth Amendment nor Article IV limits federal authority because of states’ rights.  Neither provision says anything about the substantive scope of federal authority; and neither provision obviously grants a claim of states’ rights.  Instead, they simply outline the necessary relationship between the federal government and the states in a federal system like ours.  These provisions are, at most, a blueprint for federalism.  They add nothing to the core question of congressional authority, the real issue in the case.

  • February 26, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Ryan P. Haygood, Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group, and part of LDF’s litigation team in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. LDF Special Counsel Debo P. Adegbile will present oral argument on behalf of defendant-intervenors in this case, including LDF’s clients, five Black ministers and Councilman Ernest Montgomery. In 2006, the City of Calera, which lies within Shelby County, enacted a discriminatory redistricting plan that was rejected by the Department of Justice under Section 5, leading to the loss of the city’s sole Black councilman, Mr. Montgomery.  Because of Section 5, however, the Department of Justice required Calera to redraw its electoral boundaries in a nondiscriminatory manner and conduct another election in which Mr. Montgomery regained his seat. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.


    The United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument tomorrow in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, one of the most important voting rights cases of our generation. 

    In the case, Shelby County seeks to tear out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5. The Voting Rights Act is widely regarded as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation -- if not any legislation -- ever passed. It is for this reason that the Supreme Court, through an unbroken line of cases, has four times over four decades upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

    At oral argument, the Court will focus on two key questions: (1) whether voting discrimination persists to a degree that Section 5 is still needed; and, (2) whether that discrimination remains concentrated in the places covered by Section 5.

    The answer to both queries is yes for two reasons.

    First, in reauthorizing Section 5 in 2006, Congress identified the areas of the country with the worst histories of voting discrimination -- those places where persistent and adaptive discrimination has continued from the past through to the present and, which has proven particularly difficult to dislodge over time through case-by-case litigation. 

    During the 2006 reauthorization review, Congress assembled a virtually unprecedented legislative record that closely examined the evidence to determine whether Section 5 is still needed. This analysis was careful, detailed, and included a wide range of views.  Congress received more testimony and information about the voting experience, both in and outside the places covered by Section 5, than it had during any of the previous reauthorizations. Over 10 months in 2005-2006, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees held a combined 21 hearings, received testimony from more than 90 witnesses—including state and federal officials, litigators, scholars, and private citizens—both for and against reauthorization, and compiled a 15,000 page record.  Representative James Sensenbrenner, then-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, described the record as “one of the most extensive considerations of any piece of legislation that the United States Congress has dealt with in the 27 ½ years” that he had served in Congress.

     

  • February 26, 2013
    Guest Post


    by Gilda R. Daniels, Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and former Deputy Chief of the United States Department of Justice, Voting Section. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    It would certainly be ironic if Alabama, the state that gave us the Voting Rights Act in 1965 because of its opposition to providing African American citizens the ability to register and vote, would also serve as the state that would end a key part of the Act.  It could happen.  It shouldn’t, if the Supreme Court recognizes the significance of ensuring that history does not repeat itself.

    On February 27, the United States Supreme Court will hear Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  The Voting Rights Acthas two primary provisions: Section 2 is permanent and prohibits race discrimination in voting and Section 5, which is one of the temporary provisions, requires periodic Congressional reauthorization.   What Section 5 does is very important.  It is both prophylactic and preventative and requires “covered jurisdictions” to “preclear” voting changes before they can implement them.  These changes can range from a redistricting to the mundane moving of a polling place across the street.  Regardless, the VRA requires the jurisdiction to submit the change to either the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for approval prior to implementation. Alabama is one of the originally covered Section 5 jurisdictions.

    In March 1965, more than 600 marchers embarked on a journey to walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to spotlight the belligerence and entrenchment of voting disenfranchisement for African Americans.  On Sunday, March 7, the marchers barely reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge before law enforcement officials beat and tear gassed the young people and children who bravely attempted the march.   After “Bloody Sunday,” Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address the widespread state sponsored shenanigans surrounding the right to vote, such as,  poll taxes, literacy tests, closure of registration sites, acts and threats of violence surrounding voter registration and participation that remained rampant throughout much of the country,  especially in the South.   President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “one of the most monumental laws in the entirehistory of American freedom.”   In August 1965, less than five months after the Edmund Pettus incident, he signed the Voting Rights Act.

  • February 14, 2013

    by Andrew Hamm

    Hundreds of thousands converged upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness Barack Obama take the oath of office for a second term as president. This act consummated the conferral of responsibility by the electorate, having exercised in November the fundamental right to vote that defines our nation. That defining right, however, has required constant protection – through marches, amendments, protests, and legislation – and with that vigilance.

    Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez, at a recent discussion on elections issues at the University of Baltimore School of Law, explored an imminent threat to the right to vote – the challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the upcoming Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. Perez explained how the Voting Rights Act emerged from a long and difficult struggle, manifest especially in the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. In signing the act – the “crown jewel” of civil rights legislation – President Lyndon Johnson expressed the importance of the vote, “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” Section 5 requires certain states and localities, mostly in the South, with long histories of racial discrimination in voting to obtain “preclearance” of any proposed changes to their elections procedures from the DOJ or a federal court in Washington, D.C. (See ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resources Page for more on the VRA and the Shelby County case.)

    Perez (pictured) emphasized that the struggle for equality and civil rights resembles a “marathon relay” for which “banishing the blight of racial discrimination in voting” is not yet complete. Although the Voting Rights Act has long enjoyed consistent bipartisan support, including reauthorization in 2006 by President Bush, it has recently come under intense assault. Having faced only eight challenges to its constitutionality between 1965 and 2010, the Act has since confronted ten lawsuits.