On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, the Court will hear argument in one of the most significant cases of the current term, Shelby County v. Holder (No. 12-96), a constitutional challenge to key provisions of Congress’s 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In this case, Shelby County challenges the provisions requiring certain “covered jurisdictions,” primarily the southern states of the old Confederacy, to secure advance approval (“preclearance”) from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before implementing any changes in voting or election procedures.
These provisions were enacted after a century of fierce resistance in those southern states, through violence, intimidation, and obstructive and evasive procedures, rendered illusory the Fifteenth Amendment’s guarantee that the right to vote cannot be “denied or abridged…on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” The preclearance provisions are viewed as the heart of the Voting Rights Act and are credited with the enormous gains in the enfranchisement of black and other minority citizens.Arizona, which is subject to the preclearance provisions of the Act, has a clear stake in the impending decision. Beside the fact that redistricting decisions face scrutiny by the US Department of Justice, any and all changes to voting laws and procedures in our state must also be precleared.
The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of those defending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, saying (in part):
The Court of Appeals and Respondents persuasively demonstrate that the evidence of racially discriminatory practices in the covered jurisdictions is sufficient to show a continuing need for the preclearance provisions. The coverage formula is likewise justified when viewed in light of the deference to which Congress is entitled and the system Congress established for modifying coverage upon changed circumstances.
In this brief, amicus shows that the history of the Fifteenth Amendment supports special deference to Congress’s findings. With the Fifteenth Amendment, the Framers elevated the right to vote as a central concern of the federal government and made Congress the primary enforcer of that right. A core purpose of the Amendment was to give Congress significantly broader, constitutionally-based legislative authority to protect citizens’ right to vote from racial discrimination.The Center also provides a list of (and links to) other amicus briefs filed to support upholding the lower court ruling.
Legislation now being considered in the Arizona Legislature in the regular session includes several proposals that will have the effect of (even if not the intent) making it more difficult or cumbersome for many Minority citizens to exercise their franchise.
So, Arizonans will be closely watching Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, the oral arguments later this month and the ruling which will ultimately follow.