District Court Issues Opinion Dismissing Private Parties’ Challenge to the Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act

On December 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates issued a brief order dismissing plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to Congress’ 2006 renewal of the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act in Laroque v. Holder, promising that an opinion explaining his reasoning would be issued shortly.  Yesterday, on December 20, Judge Bates issued a 53-page opinion concluding that the Laroque plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and a cause of action to challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before altering their voting laws or regulations.  The case arises out of a 2008 referendum to change local elections in the City of Kinston, North Carolina from partisan to nonpartisan, a change the United States Attorney General refused to approve.   In dismissing the case, Judge Bates concluded that the plaintiffs – candidates and voters who supported the referendum – had failed to show that they suffered any legally cognizable injury from Congress’ 2006 renewal that could be redressed by holding the Act invalid, and that, under well-established Supreme Court precedent, the Attorney General’s decision not to preclear the Kinston referendum was not subject to judicial review.

The dismissal leaves Shelby County v. Holder – scheduled for oral argument before Judge Bates on February 2, 2011 – as the only remaining pending challenge to the constitutionality of the 2006 renewal of the preclearance provision of the Voting Right Act.

CAC has filed a brief in Shelby County, urging the court to uphold the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act as appropriate legislation enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment.  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.

Check back after the February 2 oral argument for our analysis and reaction.