29 Apr 2009 Black Activists Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Invalidate Outdated Section of Voting Rights Act
Washington, DC – As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in the voting rights case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, the Project 21 black leadership network is joining with other organizations to ask that this outdated portion of the Voting Rights Act be found unconstitutional.
“The racist boogeyman of the past is just that – a thing of the past,” said Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie. “I think most people realize this, but the civil rights special interest lobby has been strong enough to keep this boogeyman alive to the legal detriment of our post-racial society. As we try to move forward, our children will continue to bear the burden of long-rectified mistakes.”
At issue in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder is whether the federal government still has a compelling reason to oversee and approve election practices in certain areas. When the Voting Right Act was renewed in 2006, Congress did not amend Section 5 of the Act – which mandates this “preclearance” standard – despite the concerns of voting rights scholars. The local Texas voting district officials challenging the Act say the standard exceeds congressional authority under the Reconstruction-era 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Project 21 has joined an amici curiae (“friend of the Court”) brief on the case with the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Center for Equal Opportunity.
In the brief, it is argued:
Changes in the social and political landscape cast doubt on, not only Section 5’s relevance, but its constitutionality. These changes show that the justification for Section 5’s remedial measures no longer exist. For instance, when the [Voting Rights] Act was enacted in 1965 there were few, if any, black elected officials in the South. But now black elected politicians make up an appreciable percentage of many state governments of the Deep South. Forty years ago the drafters of the Act understood that widespread and persistent intentional discrimination in voting occurred predominantly in the jurisdictions targeted, and typically entailed the willful misuse of tests and devices which Section 5 was specifically designed to remedy. But modern allegations of discrimination in voting may arise equally in both covered and noncovered jurisdictions, and involve a completely different array of problems which Section 5 is ill-suited to resolve.
For instance, the brief points out:
Today, the greatest majority of cases brought under the Act involve vote dilution claims which are not concentrated in any one part of the country and are addressed through Section 2 of the Act nationwide. Since 1990, the same number of Section 2 violations have occurred in Pennsylvania (a noncovered jurisdiction) as in South Carolina (a covered jurisdiction). Even more Section 2 violations occurred in New York…. The old style and systemic, race-based discrimination that made the Act necessary in 1965 exists only sporadically, if at all, while new allegations of minority voting problems stem from issues motivated by partisan politics rather than racial prejudice [such as long lines and ballot design].
A decision by the justices in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder is expected by the end of June. A copy of the brief Project 21 has joined can be obtained at http://tw5.us/UJ.
Project 21’s Massie added: “The Voting Rights Act was first enacted during a time when skin color was considered enough to disqualify a man from full participation. Today, that same Act would bar people from full participation due to where they live – regardless of their race. Where’s the fairness in that?”
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at www.project21.org/P21Index.html.