The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has opened yet another front in the legal battle to scale back the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With a lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., add Alabama to the growing list of governments complaining to judges that they’re chafing under the burdens of the 47-year-old law that doesn’t let them run their elections without strict supervision. All or part of 16 states — those with a blatant history of discrimination against minority voters — have to get permission from the federal government before they change any election-related procedures. Alabama is one of those states. “The fact that so many covered states are now willing to come out against the Voting Rights Act is a sea change since the act’s amendments passed 98-0 in the Senate in 2006,” said Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law and election law expert. Congress approved a 25-year extension of the law in 2006 and, as with previous renewals, sparked a new round of legal action. Shelby County has a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, as does a jurisdiction in North Carolina. And other states from around the South have challenges at various stages in the legal process.
Alabama for years under former Gov. Bob Riley and current Gov. Robert Bentley, both Republicans, has supported arguments by others that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is outdated and unfair to states that long ago stopped trying to keep black voters from registering, voting or holding office. The state’s lawsuit this week is its own direct challenge.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange used the state’s legislative redistricting plans to make his argument. The lawsuit asks that, if either the court or the Justice Department determines the state House or Senate map is harmful to minority voters, the judge consider declaring the two key sections of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, eliminating the need for such reviews. “Rejection of either or both of these plans … would be an unconstitutional exercise of congressional and administrative power,” the state’s complaint contends.