The U.S. Supreme Court announced Nov. 9 that it will review the constitutionality of part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The case is Shelby County v. Holder.
Certain states and smaller areas are under federal supervision because of Jim Crow era practices, which were meant to disenfranchise black voters. Section V of the Voting Rights Act requires those regions of the country to get preclearance before making changes related to voting. In 2006, Congress extended preclearance for 25 years.
Multiple legal challenges claim that the supervision is both unconstitutional and no longer necessary.
Shelby County is in Alabama. In 2006, the city of Calera in Shelby County redrew its legislative districts in a way that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) deemed discriminatory, causing the county’s only African-American councilman, Ernest Montgomery, to lose his seat.
Judge David S. Tatel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in his ruling, “After thoroughly scrutinizing the record and given that overt racial discrimination persists in covered jurisdictions notwithstanding decades of section 5 preclearance, we, like the district court, are satisfied that Congress’s judgment deserves judicial deference.”
That court found that the redistricting violated section V of the Voting Rights Act, and it required the city to redistrict again. After Calera redrew its districts, Montgomery was re-elected.
Now the court will review Shelby County’s claim that it should not be under federal oversight.
Heather K. Gerken, J. Skelly Wright professor of Law at Yale Law School, called Section 5 “one of the crown jewels of the civil rights movement,” writing in the Supreme Court of the United States blog. She cautioned that she thought its days might be numbered.
Gerken also wrote that when the court upheld Section 5 “in its 2009 decision in Northwest Austin Utility District No. 1 v. Holder (NAMUDNO),” it avoided resolving the constitutional question. She wrote that none of the discussions of that case among the justices bode well for the provision’s future.
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