Judge Upholds Constitutionality Of Section Five Of Voting Rights Act

Updated: Sept. 21, 2011 1:03PM

A federal judge nominated by President George W. Bush has upheld the constitutionality of a part of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain parts of the country to have their election laws precleared by the federal government to prevent unlawful discrimination, shooting down a challenge from Shelby County, Alabama.“Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that virtually unprecedented legislative record, the Court concludes that ‘current needs’ — the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting — do, in fact, justify Congress’s 2006 reauthorization of the preclearance requirement imposed on covered jurisdictions by Section 5, as well as the preservation of the traditional coverage formula embodied in Section 4(b),” U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates wrote.

“Despite the effectiveness of Section 5 in deterring unconstitutional voting discrimination since 1965, Congress in 2006 found that voting discrimination by covered jurisdictions had continued into the 21st century, and that the protections of Section 5 were still needed to safeguard racial and language minority voters,” Bates continued.

“Understanding the preeminent constitutional role of Congress under the Fifteenth Amendment to determine the legislation needed to enforce it, and the caution required of the federal courts when undertaking the ‘grave’ and ‘delicate’ responsibility of judging the constitutionality of such legislation — particularly where the right to vote and racial discrimination intersect — this Court declines to overturn Congress’s carefully considered judgment,” Bates wrote.

Voting rights advocates quickly praised the ruling.

“Judge Bates’ ruling preserves the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, which has been and will continue to be our country’s most important means for preserving the right to vote and preventing discrimination in the electoral process,” John Nonna, a Lawyers’ Committee board member, said in a statement.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement that they were pleased with the ruling.

“This landmark law ensures that every American has the opportunity to vote and have that vote counted,” she said. “The department will continue to vigorously defend the constitutionality of this law, including the Section 5 preclearance requirement.”