Ruling that the intentional voter discrimination that led to the passage and multiple extensions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still exists, a federal judge in Washington on Wednesday dismissed an Alabama county’s claim that portions of the act were unconstitutional.
The challenge to the law was brought last year by Shelby County, a mostly suburban county south of Birmingham, and concerned sections of the act that set apart certain jurisdictions that have shown past patterns of discrimination. These jurisdictions — which include the entirety of most Southern states but also Alaska, Arizona and isolated towns and counties around the country — are required to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges before making any changes to voting procedures. In 2006, Congress found enough evidence of continuing discrimination to warrant an extension of the act for 25 years.
In its suit, Shelby County argued that the widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era had ended, and that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” on the county and other covered jurisdictions the “disfavored treatment” of having to obtain preclearance from Washington.
The county said that Congress “lacked the evidence of intentional discrimination” to justify the extension. The suit also said parts of the act violated the principle of equal state sovereignty.
In his opinion, Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, laid out much of the evidence that Congress had used to justify its 2006 extension.
This evidence included the fact that, from 1982 to 2006, hundreds of objections to proposed voting changes had been lodged by the attorney general’s office, tens of thousands of federal observers had been sent to monitor voting in the covered areas and at least 14 cases had been reported of judicial findings of intentional discrimination.