Wednesday, July 24, 2024

US Supreme Court Upholds Voting Rights Act Provision

As previously reported in La Plaza, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No.1 vs. Holder. This case was brought by a small Texas water district which was asking to be allowed to “bail out” of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 –which requires a handful of states, and portions of other states, to seek approval from the Justice Department before making any changes to their election laws including any redistricting plans. This provision was implemented to combat a history of demonstrated racism in these areas and to make it easier for millions of African Americans, Latinos and other minorities to exercise their right to vote.

The Supreme Court, in a nearly unanimous vote, announced today their decision to uphold the provision in question and ruled that the political entities covered under the Voting Rights Act must continue to seek approval from the Justice Department before making any changes to their election laws. As a result, major planned changes to Texas election law, specifically the implementation of a Voter Photo ID requirement and the 2011 redistricting plans, will now have to be reviewed and approved by the Justice Department.

In issuing their decision, the Supreme Court expanded the type of entity that could request a “bailout” of the Act’s Section 5 provision to include all governmental subdivisions including Municipal Utility District’s like the one in Austin that sought Supreme Court relief. The Court explained their decision saying, “We therefore hold that all political subdivisions that – not only those described in Section 14 (c)(2) – are eligible to file a bailout suit.”

The decision is important because new Legislative and Congressional District lines will be drawn in 2011 following the Census. This will be the first redistricting cycle that will be reviewed by a Democratic Justice Department since the Clinton administration.

Lone Star Project