It was a battle that attorney Armand Derfner thought he had helped win almost five decades ago. In 1968, Derfner represented black Mississippi voters before the Supreme Court in one of the first constitutional tests of a key Voting Rights Act provision. Derfner and a team of civil rights lawyers prevailed, expanding the provision’s scope and keeping the protection in place. Today, Derfner, 74, is watching the Voting Rights Act confront a new challenge — on the same issue he argued 45 years ago.
That issue is Section 5 of the act, which bars certain states, counties and local governments from making any changes to their elections procedures without first proving – to the Justice Department or a federal court – that the proposed changes wouldn’t discriminate against minorities.
“Some people want to put out of their minds something which is real, which is (that) discrimination is still going on,” Derfner said. “Yes, in many ways we have made progress… But we haven’t finished the job.”
Officials in Shelby County, Ala., say Section 5 is an outdated burden that fails to acknowledge all the progress Alabama and other states have made in putting their discriminatory history behind them.
They are asking the Supreme Court to declare the section unconstitutional in a case the court will hear Feb. 27.