ATLANTA, Georgia - December 15 - The American Civil Liberties Union today hailed
the decision by the federal government to defend the constitutionality of
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the use of voting practices
that dilute minority voting strength. The Justice Department has filed an
official notice of intervention on the side of the ACLU in a federal voting
rights lawsuit brought on behalf of Native American voters on the Wind River
Reservation in Fremont County, Wyoming.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the intervention of the United States in this case
because it shows that the federal government stands squarely behind this
critically important law,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting
Rights Project in Atlanta and lead counsel in the case. “Section 2 of the
Voting Rights Act has been an extremely effective remedy to discrimination in
voting. It is indefensible that any political jurisdiction would seek to
In the case, Large v. Fremont County, which was filed October 20, 2005, five
Native American voters charge that the at-large method of electing Fremont
County Commissioners dilutes Native American voting strength in violation of
Section 2 and the Constitution.
In responding to the lawsuit, Fremont County officials have not only denied
the voters’ claims but have asked the court to rule that Section 2 of the Voting
Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 2 is widely hailed as one of the
most effective civil rights laws ever enacted.
Approximately 20 percent of Fremont County residents are Native American, yet
prior to the filing of the lawsuit no Native American had ever been elected to
the five-member board of commissioners. According to the ACLU, Native
American voters in the western United States face the same kind of voting
discrimination that has plagued African Americans in the south for
Congress recently renewed and strengthened key expiring provisions of the
landmark Voting Rights Act this summer, voting 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in
the Senate to extend the law’s temporary provisions another 25 years.
President Bush signed the measure into law on July 27, 2006.
According to McDonald, the Supreme Court has already upheld the
constitutionality of Section 2 in a 1984 Mississippi voting rights case and
applied it most recently in the Texas redistricting case of LULAC v. Perry, in
which the Court found that Congressional redistricting in Texas violated the
rights of Hispanic voters under the Voting Rights Act.
“I doubt very much that the U.S. Supreme Court would have ruled the way it
did in the Texas redistricting case had it thought Section 2 was
unconstitutional,” McDonald said. “Nevertheless, we take this challenge
seriously and applaud the government for joining us to defend the
constitutionality of Section 2, one of the most important provisions of the
Voting Rights Act.”
The Wyoming challenge is the second attempt in recent months by local
governments to challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights
Act. The first case was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., by a
small “Municipal Utility District” in Austin, Texas, which is seeking to
overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. In that
case the ACLU and other voting rights groups have intervened on behalf of the
federal government, which is also defending the constitutionality of the law.
The ACLU complaint in Large v. Fremont County, No. 2:05-cv-00270-ABJ (D. WY),
is online at www.votingrights.org/resources/?resourceID=82
The United States’ “Notice of Intervention” is online at www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/27695lgl20061214.html