October 22, 2016
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Reactions To Voting Rights Ruling




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Washington D.C. – Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus released the following statement today after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a central provision of Voting Rights Act:


“By an overwhelming 8 to 1 majority the Supreme Court has rejected an attempt to turn the clock back on civil rights and acknowledged Congress’s authority to protect the right to vote.


“With the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas, the Justices of the Supreme Court understand the importance of the Voting Rights Act and the progress this country has made since 1964.


“As a result of today’s ruling, the VRA and its ‘preclearance’ provision remain effective tools in this nation’s ongoing struggle to guarantee an equal vote to all, regardless of race.”





From Democracy Program at Demos

Washington, DC--The Supreme Court today released its opinion in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, bypassing the opportunity to decide the constitutionality of Congress' renewal of the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and instead holding, in an 8-1 decision, that the local utility district that brought the constitutional challenge could seek exemption from Section 5's requirements through the Act's "bailout" provision. In response to the ruling, Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, made the following statement:

"Today's decision leaves in place the critical protections of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act without resolving the plaintiff's constitutional challenge to Section 5. We are extremely encouraged that widespread predictions of the Act's demise did not come to pass, and that Section 5's provisions remain intact. 

"The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has rightly been called the most important civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain jurisdictions with the most entrenched history of racial discrimination in voting to seek "pre-clearance" from the U.S. Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before making changes in their voting procedures, has been central to the progress this nation has made since 1965 toward overcoming barriers to registration, voting and equal representation. Time and again, the protections of Section 5 have prevented backsliding by covered jurisdictions, blocking both blatant and subtle efforts to disfranchise protected racial and ethnic minorities or to dilute their voting strength. 

"The extensive record before Congress when it renewed the provisions of Section 5 provided compelling support for CongressÂ’ conclusion that Section 5 remains a necessary tool for protecting against discrimination in the voting process. Courts reviewing that record in future cases should readily conclude, as did the lower court in the case decided today, that Section 5 reflects a constitutional means to ensure that our nation does not turn back the clock on the hard-won advances we have made in securing the voting rights of all Americans."

The amicus brief that Demos joined in support of the constitutionality of Section 5 is available here: http://demos.org/publication.cfm?currentpublicationID=3FC6C33A-3FF4-6C82-59E9D4F408FF7840. 

Today's Supreme Court decision is available here [http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-322.pdf]

For more information or to arrange an interview with Wright, contact Tim Rusch, Demos, trusch@demos.org or (917) 399-0236. 





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Statement of Attorney General Eric Holder on U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in Voting Rights Act Case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder


"The Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act marks a victory for voting rights in America. In a nearly-unanimous decision, the Court not only recognized the historic achievements of the Voting Rights Act as helping make us a ‘very different Nation’, but also ensured that this law will continue to protect free and fair access to the voting booth. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act, which was renewed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support in Congress in 2006.

"As a nation, we have made great strides in advancing and protecting civil rights in the past 44 years since the Voting Rights Act was first passed. But there is still more work to be done to fulfill the promise of full voting rights, free from discrimination, for all Americans."




NCJW Welcomes Voting Rights Decision


Washington, DC -- The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) today welcomed the Supreme Court's decision that preserved the heart of the Voting Rights Act in a case involving a Texas water district. NCJW President Nancy Ratzan released the following statement:


"Today’s decision by the Supreme Court leaves the heart of the Voting Rights Act intact. NCJW joined with those who filed an amicus brief in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder urging the court to uphold a key provision of the act that requires jurisdictions with a record of past discrimination to submit changes in voting rights procedures to the Justice Department for review prior to their implementation.


"We are gratified that the Court chose to rule narrowly that, under the Voting Rights Act, the water district was eligible to apply for an exemption from federal review without overturning the main provisions of the act itself.


"Just last month, the Department of Justice refused to approve a voter registration procedure proposed by the state of Georgia on the grounds that it would discriminate against minority voters. It would have been a dark day for our democracy if the Court today had chosen to undermine Congress’ determination to ensure voting rights for all."


The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.






Rep. John Lewis Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Decision

On Voting Rights Act Case


          “I am glad to say that even after a significant constitutional challenge, the Voting Rights Act still stands.  Section 5 remains a powerful tool for voters who believe their voting rights are being violated, and pre-clearance continues to be the most effective legal means voters have today to protect themselves from present-day discriminatory voting laws and practices.


“In 2008--not in 1968 but during last year’s election—the state of Georgia implemented a practice that would have rendered over 200 thousand American-born or naturalized citizens ineligible to vote.  These citizens were mainly African Americans, but many were Hispanic and Asian Americans as well.  Without the power of Section 5, without the pre-clearance provision, those voters would have been barred from voting in last year’s election, and could have only defended their voting rights through a lawsuit, which would have taken years to resolve.  Meanwhile, a practice the Justice Department subsequently determined was discriminatory would have remained in place in Georgia, keeping lawful citizens from participating in the electoral process.


                “Before the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized in 2006, Congress developed a 16,000 page record that documented contemporary instances of voting discrimination in states throughout the country—not just Southern states but other states as well, like South Dakota and Arizona.  Though we have made significant steps forward, this record proves that there are still many reasons today to maintain the protections offered by Section 5 of the VRA.  We have come a great distance, but the struggle for voting rights in America is not over, and we should not rest until the voting process is fair, easy, and equally available to all citizens of this nation.


                “It should also be noted that bail-out or exemption from the requirements of the Voting Rights Act is available to any jurisdiction that can show it no longer discriminates against eligible voters.  The provisions for exemption are described in the act and any jurisdiction that can prove it no longer practices voting discrimination can be relieved from the pre-clearance provision.”






 PLF and Project 21 Statements on Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act Ruling


Sacramento, CA;  The Supreme Court declined to address head-on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. However, in a welcome move, the court did permit one local jurisdiction, with no history of discrimination, to "bail out" from Section 5’s coverage.

Section 5 is the "preclearance" rule that requires targeted states and localities (throughout the South and in a number of jurisdictions elsewhere) to ask federal permission before they make changes, no matter how minute, in how they conduct their elections. Today, in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, the Court issued a narrow ruling that exempts the utility district from Section 5 but stopped short of overturning Section 5 itself.

PLF attorneys submitted an amicus brief urging that Section 5 be overturned, because it undermines constitutional principles of federalism by allowing sweeping federal supervision of local elections – without evidence of continued race-based discrimination in the states and localities that it targets for federal supervision.

PLF Principal Attorney Sharon L. Browne issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling:

"It is disappointing that the Supreme Court chose to sidestep the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This provision gives the federal government too much power by allowing it to micromanage local elections in targeted states and localities even where there is no evidence of race-based discrimination in voting procedures. The Supreme Court did give relief to one local jurisdiction – the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One – that has no history of racial discrimination. However, while it is welcome that the Court allowed this one local district to ‘bail out’ from federal control, the structure of overbearing federal intrusion in other local elections remains in place. So the Court stopped short of its duty to defend the constitutional principle that federal power is and should be strictly limited."


PLF s amicus brief was submitted in conjunction with the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) and Project 21, the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives.

Mychal Massie, chairman of Project 21, had this comment: "We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court did not see the common sense in relieving states and municipalities from the onerous and unnecessary continuance of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As with affirmative action, the Court recognizes the unconstitutionality of the statute but refuses to go the distance to make things right. The only certainty of this ruling is that the problem of preclearance standards will continue to be a problem. The question to be pondered is how many of these aggrieved voting districts will knuckle under to overbearing and unnecessary standards because the justices chose to kick the can down the road rather than actually do something about it."


The authors of PLF’s amicus brief, PLF’s Sharon Browne, Ralph Kasarda, and Joshua Thompson, are available for interviews at (916) 419-7111. Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie is available for interviews at (202) 543-4111 or (484) 515-0259.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the nation’s oldest and most successful public interest legal organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide.

About CEO and Project 21
Project 21, the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, is an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research to promote the views of African-Americans whose entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to family, and commitment to individual responsibility have not traditionally been echoed by the nation’s civil rights establishment. Project 21 seeks to make America a better place for African-Americans, and all Americans, to live and work.

The Center for Equal Opportunity is a nonprofit research and educational organization devoted to issues of race and ethnicity, such as civil rights, bilingual education, and immigration and assimilation. CEO supports color-blind public policies and seeks to block the expansion of racial preferences and to prevent their use in, for instance, employment, education, and voting.

# # #




Washington DC—The NAACP issued the following statement today in response to the United State Supreme Court Ruling in the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Eric Holder, a case challenging Section Five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The NAACP commends the Supreme Court Justices today for upholding one of the most crucial enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.  “As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, ‘[t]he historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable.’  In 2006 Congress voted to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and now in 2009 the Supreme Court has upheld Section 5, “President and CEO Jealous continued.

Section 5, regarded by many as the heart of the Voting Rights Act, both blocks and deters discriminatory voting changes in a select number of jurisdictions around the country. Specifically, Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to submit proposed voting changes to its election process to the Department of Justice or to the D.C. District Court for pre-approval.  In 2006, after careful review of an expansive record, Congress concluded that the Section 5 preclearance provision is still necessary to prevent minority citizens from being deprived of the right to fully participate in our democracy. Accordingly, with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress voted to reauthorize Section 5 and former President Bush signed the reauthorization into law.

“While some may think that voter discrimination is a thing of the past, it is clear that it is not.  Jim Crow might be dead but James Crow Esquire is alive and well, and while we may not see fire hoses and police dogs any longer, [but] they have been replaced by false emails and polling station trickery,” Jealous said.

“When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights act of 1965 in 2006, they compiled more than 16,000 pages of documentation and head from scores of witnesses in support of Section 5 and its continued relevance.  We are very pleased that the Supreme Court ruled to keep this crucial provision [Section 5] intact,” stated Hilary O. Shelton Vice President for Advocacy and Director of the DC Bureau of the NAACP. 

“Evidence of voter intimidation and voter discrimination are ongoing throughout our country.  From thousands of people being turned away from the polls in 2000 in Florida, to the Ohio controversy in 2004, and even to polling place problems in St. Louis during the past election, it is important now more than ever that Section 5 remain intact.  The Supreme Court did the correct thing and protected all people of color from voter discrimination and ensured that their voices will be heard,” said Shelton.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members in the U.S. around the world advocate for civil and human rights, conducting voter mobilization campaigns, and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.


Supreme Court Preserves Voting Rights Act Oversight Provision 

Court Refrains From Deciding Constitutionality Of Section 5, Issuing Decision On Narrow Grounds

WASHINGTON – In an 8-1 vote today, the Supreme Court left in place the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Under Section 5 of the Act, jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination must obtain approval from either the Justice Department or a federal court before implementing any changes in their voting practices or procedures.

The American Civil Liberties Union had intervened in the case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder (NAMUDNO), to defend Section 5 on behalf of an African-American voter who lives in an Austin, Texas utility district that had asked for the preclearance provision to be declared unconstitutional.

"For more than 40 years, Section 5 has been a critical element of perhaps the most successful civil rights statute this country has ever enacted," said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. "As Chief Justice Roberts recognized, the Voting Rights Act has been instrumental in reducing voting discrimination, increasing minority voter registration and multiplying the number of minority officeholders throughout the nation. But, as Congress recognized when it reenacted Section 5 only three years ago, voting discrimination is sadly not a relic of the past and Section 5 therefore continues to play a vital role in ensuring that all citizens have an equal right to participate in the political process."

It was widely expected that the Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 in the NAMUDNO case. Instead, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court declined to decide the constitutional question and resolved the case on narrower grounds.

Under the Voting Rights Act, "political subdivisions" can "bail out" of the preclearance provision of Section 5 if they can demonstrate they have not discriminated against minority voters for a 10-year period. The Court today held that the municipal district in this case was a political subdivision entitled to seek a bailout. Because a successful bailout would enable the district to avoid the requirements of Section 5, the Court concluded that it was unnecessary for it to address the constitutionality of the preclearance requirements.

"The district was, in effect, asking the Supreme Court to declare Section 5 unconstitutional because it has been so successful," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The Supreme Court declined that invitation. Moreover, by liberalizing the bailout provisions of the Voting Rights Act, today's decision makes it more difficult for jurisdictions covered by Section 5 to complain that there is no escape from its preclearance requirements."

The Voting Rights Act was first adopted by Congress in 1965, and Section 5 has been extended on four separate occasions. Most recently, overwhelming and bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate voted in 2006 to extend Section 5 for another 25 years after conducting extensive hearings on the ongoing problem of discrimination in voting.

"We have made progress toward voting equality in Texas and elsewhere," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. "But we have not eliminated voting discrimination or the need for vigilance in combating it. Today's decision will help to ensure equal voting rights for all Texans."

Attorneys representing the African-American voter include Shapiro of the national ACLU, McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Graybill of the ACLU Foundation of Texas, Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and Michael Kator and Jeremy Wright of Kator, Parks & Weiser, P.L.L.C.

The Supreme Court's opinion on the case can be found online at:

For more information on this case, go to:www.aclu.org/votingrights/minority/37008lgl20090302.html

More information of the work of the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at:www.votingrights.org 



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