While much of the rest of the nation was diverted for the holidays, a group of lawyers in Washington pressed on to prepare new legal papers in hopes of getting a speedy decision — perhaps in time for the 2012 elections — on the constitutionality of the federal law that many consider history’s most important guarantee of minorities’ voting rights. Having barely missed the chance in 2009 to get the Supreme Court to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, challengers are seeking to set up a new test case as quickly as they can. They may get their wish, at least in lower federal courts.
Three days after Christmas, attorneys for a group of opponents of Section 5, who live in the small community of Kinston in eastern North Carolina (population about 24,000), urged the D.C. Circuit to take unusual steps to decide their case in close tandem with an already pending challenge there from Shelby County, Alabama. The Kinston lawyers even offered to forfeit the usual opportunity for an oral argument, if that would move the case along.
“The public has a compelling interest in a prompt and definitive resolution of Section 5′s facial constitutionality during the upcoming election year,” the attorneys said in a motion to expedite their appeal, and to assign it to the same three-judge panel that is reviewing the Shelby County case. “Section 5 will have a sweeping effect on the 2012 elections, because it will affect redistricting, voter-identification laws, polling-place locations, early-voting hours, and any other voting change” in all or parts of 16 states that are subject to Section 5. The Justice Department, the attorneys told the Court, does not object to those requests.