Has the Voting Rights Act Run Its Course?

In a suit aiming to strike down the law's protections, a federal judge seems to think that evidence of racial discrimination is ancient history.

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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires certain state, county and local governments to get federal approval before changing election procedures, like moving polling places or redrawing school district lines.

Why is this “pre-clearance” required? Because these localities have a rep for sneaky moves that suppress minority votes.

And why was it extended by Congress for another 25 years in 2006? According to the Justice Department, because of overwhelming evidence that racial discrimination continues today. These new forms of discrimination -- while more subtle -- are most common in the jurisdictions with the most checkered racial pasts, they argue. And civil rights groups can point to several recent examples in which local governments have redrawn district lines or delayed elections in an effort to dilute minority voting strength.

The Huffington Post reports that Shelby County, Ala., backed by conservative legal groups, has brought a legal action to get out of the federal approval that it and other covered governments have to get before they change election procedures. The county posits that the evidence of racial discrimination is out of date.

U.S. District Judge John Bates, who heard the oral arguments on Wednesday, sounded pretty sympathetic to the county's argument. "We're now looking at a situation where that information is at least 45 years out of date, and by the time the 2006 extension of the Voting Rights Act runs its course, it will be 70 years," he said. "That wouldn't seem to be a current coverage formula, would it?"

"The question is: Is there continued discrimination in those covered states? And the answer is yes," said Samuel Bagenstos, the Justice Department's lead attorney in the case.

We have to wonder why, if Shelby County doesn't plan to do anything wrong, is it so eager to have these racial-discrimination protections eliminated? Certainly there are costs and hassles involved with pre-clearance, but we bet they're also paying quite a bit for this fight -- especially since the issue is likely to reach the Supreme Court. And pardon the conspiracy theory, but starting the legal battle now sets them up for a final ruling that could be suspiciously close to the 2012 presidential elections.  

Read more at the Huffington Post.

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