Lawyer's Committee Wins Landmark Case Upholding Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act
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By Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
May 30, 2008
Court Rebuffs Challenge to Congress’s 2006 Extension of Key Protections Against Racial Discrimination in Voting
A special three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia today issued a landmark ruling upholding the reauthorization of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a unanimous decision written by Judge David Tatel, the panel squarely rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, which extended for 25 years the preclearance requirement contained in Section 5 as well as other important provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
In the lawsuit, titled Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel from the firm of Wilmer Hale represented the defendant-intervenor Texas NAACP. In its opinion, the Court prominently cited the work of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee, which made the largest contribution to the unprecedented legislative record created by Congress in passing the Act.
“The argument that Section 5 is no longer needed is without basis,”
said Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director
Barbara Arnwine. “We applaud the Court for validating the critically
important decision of Congress to reauthorize Section 5. This
multi-year effort was a top priority for the Lawyers’ Committee and for
the civil rights community as a whole and we could not be more pleased
with the outcome.”
The 2006 reauthorization was passed with overwhelming support in
Congress and was signed by President Bush in July 2006. The Utility
District’s lawsuit was filed shortly thereafter. Although the Court
also found that the Utility District was not entitled to “bail out”
from coverage under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the main
significance of the case rests upon the Court’s unqualified rejection
of the Utility District’s argument that Section 5 had outlived its
usefulness because the problem of racial discrimination in voting was
no longer a sufficient problem to justify its requirements.
Conducting its own review of the extensive legislative record, and
crediting the findings of the House Judiciary Committee, the Court
concluded that “findings of continued efforts to discriminate against
minority citizens in voting demonstrate that despite substantial
improvements, there is a demonstrated and continuing need to
reauthorize [Section 5]” and found that it was supported by
“Today’s ruling caps years of tireless work across the civil rights
community to ensure that the irreplaceable protections of the Voting
Rights Act remain in place so long as the scourge of racial
discrimination threatens our democratic process” said Jon Greenbaum,
director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers’ Committee. “The
Court’s careful findings and review of the law show in detail that
Congress’s decisions were fully justified.”
The Lawyers’ Committee litigated the case with other civil rights
organizations including ACLU, MALDEF, NAACP LDF, PFAW and Texas
RioGrande Legal Aid.
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