CAC Files Brief in Shelby County v. Holder, Urges District Court to Uphold Voting Rights Act

In June 2009, in NAMUDNO v. Holder, the Supreme Court came dangerously close to striking down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important provisions of this critical civil rights law. In an 8-1 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court declined to decide the constitutionality of Congress’ nearly unanimous 2006 decision to renew the preclearance provision (which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before altering their voting laws or regulations), but invited future challenges. Shelby County, Alabama, took the offer, filing suit earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to invalidate this aspect of the Voting Rights Act’s protection of our multi-racial democracy.

Last week, CAC filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, urging the court to dismiss Shelby County’s suit and uphold the constitutionality of the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. CAC’s brief demonstrates that the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment give Congress broad authority – no less sweeping than Congress’ other expressly enumerated powers – to make sure the right to vote free from racial discrimination is fully enjoyed by all Americans. History shows that the Framers of the Fifteenth Amendment were fully aware that Congress needed broad authority to enact prophylactic legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act, to root out all forms of racial discrimination in voting.

As CAC’s brief shows, Shelby County’s argument that the Voting Rights Act intrudes on state sovereignty echoes the same arguments made by opponents of the Fifteenth Amendment in challenging the Amendment‘s adoption by Congress and its ratification by the States. The Fifteenth Amendment radically altered the balance of powers between the federal government and the states, giving Congress broad authority to secure the right to vote to African Americans and to prevent and deter racial discrimination in state elections.

Our brief builds upon CAC’s report, the Shield of National Protection, which shows that the Framers of Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments chose broad, sweeping language conferring on Congress the power to enforce the new constitutional guarantees of liberty, equality, and the right to vote free from racial discrimination by all “appropriate legislation.” In the aftermath of the Supreme Court‘s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Framers were determined to give Congress the lead role in securing the new constitutional guarantees set forth in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
Shelby County v. Holder, currently pending before District Judge John D. Bates, is scheduled for oral argument on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment on February 2, 2011. Please check back here after the argument for our reaction and analysis.

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