The right to vote is sometimes said to be the most fundamental in American democracy. Yet legal challenges to the federal voting rights law are increasing even as they highlight the racial injustices that make it essential. In a ruling last week, Judge John Bates of Federal District Court rightly dismissed such a challenge by Shelby County, Ala., which sought to have a central part of the law declared unconstitutional.
That provision, Section 5, requires states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” of any changes in local voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. Because it was common for jurisdictions to adopt new discriminatory practices after a court struck down old ones, the 1965 Voting Rights Act required the “covered” jurisdictions — six Southern states, and other counties and cities around the country — to show that any proposed rule change would not discriminate against minorities. Congress renewed Section 5 in 2006.
Shelby County, near Birmingham, challenged the preclearance requirement, contending that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” the “disfavored treatment” of having to obtain prior approval from a federal authority. Judge Bates, however, found that, despite Section 5’s effectiveness in combating discrimination, Congress was right to conclude that racism in voting systems continues to this day.
When Congress reauthorized the provision in 2006, he wrote, it found that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard” for what the Constitution requires.
The covered jurisdictions remain riddled with intentional discrimination. And there would be even more violations without the deterrent effect of Section 5 and the opportunity that preclearance gives the Justice Department to say no to harmful plans of state and local governments.
Full Article: The Fundamental Right – NYTimes.com.