Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Voting Rights Act Challenge

January 9, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed today to hear an appeal 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 access to voting booths across the South. The American Civil Liberties Union represents an African-American voter who lives in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One, the jurisdiction that brought the challenge. A number of civil rights organizations are also participating in the lawsuit.

The Voting Rights Act provision, known as Section 5, requires certain jurisdictions that have a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain advance permission from the federal government before changing their election laws. Congress overwhelmingly approved the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 2006 and President Bush signed it into law. Yet, 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 to have the provision declared unconstitutional.

The following can be attributed to Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project:

“Racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection the Voting Rights Act provides. Despite significant progress over the years, the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision remains an essential tool to remedy and prevent discrimination at the ballot box. Without this protection, too many citizens will be denied the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted. We are hopeful that the Court will uphold the Voting Rights Act in its entirety so that we can continue to make progress.”

The following can be attributed to Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU:

“The constitutionality of Section 5 has been repeatedly challenged, but the Court has dismissed those challenges each and every time. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will affirm the lower court’s decision so that the voting rights of all Americans will be more secure. It would be a grave mistake to dismantle a law that has protected voting rights for more than a generation.”

More information on the case is available at:

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