Days before the U.S. Supreme Court was set to hear arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, legal experts said they feared that striking it down would hurt Indian Country and Native American voters. Enacted in 1965 as a temporary provision, Section 5 freezes election practices or procedures in certain states and local governments, mostly in the south, until the new procedures have been subjected to review or “precleared” by the Justice Department or a federal court. Congress has since reauthorized Section 5 four times. Currently, it is set to expire in 2031. In order to make changes to their voting rules, the states in question must demonstrate that the rules do not have the purpose of discriminating — or that regardless of intent, that the new rules will not have a discriminatory effect — based on race or color, or against a “language minority group,” including persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives, or of Spanish heritage.
The Justice Department has since objected to about one percent of the prospective voting rules changes that have been submitted to the agency. On February 27, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Shelby County, challenging Congress’s authority to reauthorize the program in 2006.
During a February 22 media conference call with legal experts, Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said he thinks it is the Supreme Court’s duty to reject the challenge of constitutionality of Section 5. “The Section 5 objections enforcement actions…show that the extension of Section 5 in 2006 was more than justified,” McDonald said. In his report, “Voting Rights in Indian Country,” McDonald lays out several discriminatory decisions, such as redistricting in South Dakota, which diluted the Indian vote.