Voting Rights Act Section 5 Reform Supported as Supreme Court Hears Arguments Wednesday

Natl Center For Public Policy Research | March 2, 2013 

Washington, DC - Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow, Feb. 27, on the constitutionality of “preclearance” standards mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Members of the Project 21 black leadership network are siding with the local government challenging the constitutionality of federal oversight over voting laws in certain states and localities but not others.

Preclearance mandates contained in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act still require U.S. Department of Justice approval over voting law changes in all or part of 16 states based on discrimination witnessed during the 1964 election.

A legal brief Project 21 filed with the Court in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder, Jr. states: “Section 5… is not consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution… [N]ew circumstances now place even covered jurisdictions well ahead of where non-covered jurisdictions were in 1965, and provide an ongoing political check against backsliding. The urgent necessity for extreme measures such as preclearance is thus well past, and such legislation is no longer appropriate.”

“Focusing like a laser on counties and states that discriminated close to 50 years ago while ignoring modern voting rights violations in places such as Milwaukee and Chicago undermines the whole concept of the Voting Rights Act,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former constitutional law professor and legal counsel to then-U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX).

Cherylyn Harley LeBon, Project 21 Co-Chairman and former Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, added: “For nearly half a century, the Voting Rights Act has been the keystone in the arch of civil rights protection for people of color. It will continue to be, however, the current way the law is being applied to specific counties is simply unfair and likely not the law’s original intent.”

Project 21′s legal brief also charges that the Obama Administration is abusing the Voting Rights Act to practice racial politics. Noting efforts to promote and protect minority-majority voting districts despite a lack of evidence of minority voter disfranchisement, the Project 21 brief argues: “Section 5 itself is now a central tool for institutionalized racial discrimination at the command of the [Obama Justice Department] itself.”

Notably, the Obama Justice Department uses this same authority to prevent or delay enactment of clearly constitutional measures such as state-level voter ID laws opposed by liberal politicians.

Project 21′s Cooper pointed out: “The Voting Rights Act was never intended to be a tool for preferring one race over another or one political ideology over another. Using preclearance to obtain either goal is antithetical to equality and — I believe — unconstitutional.”

Likewise, Project 21′s LeBon noted: “The real issue is that Congress has failed to update a section of this very important landmark legislation; thus states and local governments are forced to use the only remedy available — the courts.”

States that must apply to the U.S. Department of Justice to make changes in its voting laws under Section 5 are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia (partial), California (partial), Florida (partial), New York (partial), North Carolina (partial), South Dakota (partial), Michigan (partial), New Hampshire (partial).

Shelby County, AL officials are suing to end the process of applying and waiting for federal approval for even minor and popularly-supported actions related to voting. The lawsuit is not meant to have the Court overturn the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, but merely to remedy the “dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states” caused by Section 5′s preclearance mandate.

Although preclearance standards were considered an “extreme temporary measure” when adopted, Congress has repeatedly failed to address changing demographics and the evolution of American society during past reauthorizations of the Act.

Project 21 joined an amicus curie (“friend of the court”) brief urging the Supreme Court to take this case last September, which the court did, and independently submitted a second brief urging the court to strike down Section 5 enforcement in January.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for nearly two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank established in 1982. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated .

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