A federal judge in Alabama on Monday reinstated federal oversight over the voting practices of a city there, in what election law specialists said was the first such move since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in June. Judge Callie V.S. Granade, of Federal District Court in Mobile, used a mechanism in the law that the Supreme Court had left untouched, Section 3, which allows jurisdictions that have intentionally discriminated against minority voters to be “bailed in” to the oversight requirements. Relying on Section 3, Judge Granade ordered the city, Evergreen, to submit some changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court for review before they can go into effect. “This is a major win for the people of Evergreen,” said John K. Tanner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a former chief of the Justice Department’s voting section. But he added that piecemeal litigation under Section 3 was no substitute for a general requirement that states and localities designated by Congress be subject to federal oversight.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the formula that had identified places, based on 40-year-old data, that would be required to obtain permission from federal authorities before changing voting procedures. The court suggested that Congress remained free to enact a new coverage formula based on contemporary data, but most analysts say that is unlikely.
But the ruling left Section 3 in place, allowing federal courts to impose oversight on given states and localities based on a showing that they had committed intentional constitutional violations.