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D.C. Circuit Upholds Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
WASHINGTON - May 18 - Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, affirming the summary judgment of the D.C. District Court. In Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder, the court rejected an argument advanced by attorneys for Shelby County, Alabama, that the legislative record did not support the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, identifying numerous examples of modern instances of racial discrimination in voting that sustain Congress's findings.
"The court properly found that this key provision of the Voting Rights Act is still needed to ensure that minorities can fully exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination," said Lawyers' Committee Executive Director Barbara R. Arnwine. "This is an important victory in the defense of Section 5."
Originally enacted in 1965, Section 5 requires that states and localities with a history of voting discrimination submit any changes in their voting practices and procedures for federal review before putting them into effect. It is a monumental piece of civil rights legislation and continues to serve as a shield protecting minority voters' right to be free from racial discrimination in voting.
"The Court properly found that Congress's decision to maintain Section 5 was grounded in the many instances of recent voting discrimination," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee, who argued before the district court in this case.
In April 2010, Shelby County (a largely white suburb of Birmingham) filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC asking that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act be declared unconstitutional. Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, No. 1:10-cv-00651 (D.D.C.). The county, naming Attorney General Holder the defendant in the case, claimed that Congress did not have the constitutional authority, in 2006, to reauthorize Section 5 for another 25 years. On August 25, 2010, the Lawyers' Committee, representing Bobby Lee Harris, a former council member of the Town of Alabaster (located in Shelby County), intervened in the lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Other defendant interveners include Shelby County residents, represented by the NAACP LDF and the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
On September 21, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act against Shelby County's challenge. Shelby County filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is the subject of today's ruling.
The Lawyers' Committee has been at the forefront in seeking to ensure that Section 5 continues to protect minority voters against discriminatory voting changes. In 2005, the Lawyers' Committee established the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act to determine whether serious and widespread discrimination in voting has continued in the jurisdictions covered by Section 5. In February 2006, the Commission issued a detailed report on its findings, and Congress then relied on the Commission's report when it concluded, later that year, that Section 5 should again be reauthorized. Many of the factual findings cited in today's opinion were taken from the Commission's work.
Please click here for the court's decision.