Supreme Court Hears Voting Rights Act Challenge

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

Supreme Court Hears Voting Rights Act Challenge

ACLU Represents Individual Affected By Oversight Provision

WASHINGTON - The
U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal today brought by a small
municipal utility district in Austin, Texas challenging a key section
of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark federal law that ensured
African-Americans and language minorities access to voting booths
across the South and the nation. The challenged provision, Section 5,
requires certain jurisdictions that have a history of racial
discrimination in voting to obtain advance approval from the federal
government before changing their election laws. The outcome of the case
will have enormous implications for minority voters.
 
"Unfortunately, racial
discrimination and racially polarized voting are not things of the
past," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the American Civil Liberties
Union Voting Rights Project. "It is crucial that voting rights
protections like the Section 5 preclearance requirement remain in
place. Without this protection, many citizens will be denied the
opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes
diluted."

The ACLU, which intervened in the case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder,
represents an African-American voter who lives in Northwest Austin
Municipal Utility District Number One, the jurisdiction that brought
the challenge. A number of other civil rights organizations are also
participating in the lawsuit.

"Every American citizen has the
right to participate equally in the political process, but despite
significant progress over the years, many minority voters continue to
face great obstacles in exercising that right," said Steven R. Shapiro,
Legal Director of the ACLU. "The Court has dismissed every challenge of
the constitutionality of Section 5. We are hopeful that the Court will
once again uphold the Voting Rights Act against this latest challenge."

Congress overwhelmingly approved the
reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 2006, and
President Bush signed it into law. At the congressional hearings
leading up to the vote, a host of ongoing discriminatory tactics that
have negatively impacted racial and ethnic minority voters were cited
including last minute polling place changes and partisan
redistricting. 

However, in a direct challenge to
this crucial civil rights law, the Austin utility district asked a
federal court to declare Section 5 unconstitutional. In May 2008, a
federal district court soundly rebuffed the district's request.

"Every Texan has the right to have
his or her vote count and Section 5 is an important part of ensuring
this right is protected," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the
ACLU of Texas. "Unfortunately, the danger of minority disfranchisement
persists."

Attorneys representing the
African-American voter include Shapiro of the national ACLU, McDonald
of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Graybill of the ACLU Foundation of
Texas, Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and
Michael Kator and Jeremy Wright of Kator, Parks & Weiser, P.L.L.C.

For more information on this case, including legal briefs, go to: www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/37008lgl20090302

More information of the work of the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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