Schneiderman leads multi-state coalition defending Voting Rights Act against constitutional challenge; New York, California, Mississippi and North Carolina argue law provides important protections for minority voters and that compliance poses no undue burden or cost on states
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case challenging the constitutionality of a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. In a friend-of-the-court brief, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led a four-state coalition to argue that the Court should reject the constitutional challenge to the law given the important role that the Voting Rights Act plays in blocking and deterring voting discrimination. The brief was filed jointly with California, Mississippi and North Carolina in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.
The constitutional challenge brought by Shelby County takes aim at the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance provision requires certain jurisdictions, including several covered counties in New York, to submit new voting changes for federal review to ensure that they were not adopted with a discriminatory purpose, and will not negatively impact minority voter participation.
"The Voting Rights Act stands as one of Congress's greatest legislative achievements, and its protections remain vital to ensuring that all voters have equal access to the democratic process," Schneiderman said. "The preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act helps eliminate discriminatory voting laws and practices before they can take root. Most importantly, the benefits afforded by the law far outweigh the minimal burden on covered jurisdictions. While we have seen progress, the protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act clearly remain necessary in the states where the law applies, including New York."
Shelby County argues that Section 5 is no longer required and claims that Congress exceeded its powers when it reauthorized the law in 2006. Shelby County also argues that the law is intrusive on states and argues that its protections are no longer necessary in the 16 states where the law applies. Schneiderman, along with Mississippi, North Carolina and California, provide a stark contrast to Shelby County's contentions, asserting that Section 5 is an appropriate exercise of congressional power and a carefully tailored tool that applies in those parts of the country where the law's protections remain most necessary. In addition, the brief presents the important practical perspective and experience of the covered jurisdictions subject to Section 5, and notes that compliance with the law has historically and continues to pose little burden or cost on the states.
According to the brief, "The Section 5 preclearance process has helped bring about tremendous progress in the covered jurisdictions and continues to be a vital mechanism to assist amici states in working to achieve the equality in opportunities for political participation that is a foundational principle of our democracy."
In 2006, Congress conducted extensive hearings to determine whether the law's requirements remained necessary, compiled a record of ongoing discrimination throughout the covered jurisdictions, and voted overwhelmingly by a margin of 98-0 in the Senate to renew the law. The preclearance provision applies to Kings, Bronx and New York counties and has provided important protections for minority voters in New York state. The law also applies to the State of Mississippi, and parts of both North Carolina and California, among other states.
The case was handled by Special Counsel to the Solicitor General Steven Wu, Deputy Solicitor General Cecelia Chang and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.
A copy of the states' brief is available online at:www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/press-releases/2013/VRA%20Amicus%20Brief%202%201%2013.pdf.