Monday, June 22, 2009

Canyon Creek Mud case: SCOTUS punts on VRA

Campaign Legal center says the court "punted" on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act:

The Supreme Court ... declined to rule on NAMUDNO's challenge to the constitutionality of the law. The Court instead ruled on narrower statutory grounds: its decision granted all political subdivisions the right to apply for bailout from the requirements of Section 5. ... The Court ... punted to another day on the broader constitutional issues present in the case.

A response from "Project 21" on the Supreme Court ruling:

"As with affirmative action, the Court recognizes the unconstitutionality at issue but refuses to go the distance to make things right," said Project 21 Chairman Mychal Massie. "The only certainty of this ruling is that the problem will continue to fester. The question to be pondered now is how many aggrieved voting districts will knuckle under to overbearing and unnecessary federal standards because the justices chose to kick the can down the road rather than actually do something about the problem."

In its ruling in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, all of the justices agreed that the "preclearance" provisions of Section 5 the Voting Rights Act - which still requires nine states and many other counties and localities to clear all electoral changes with the U.S. Department of Justice - are outdated. The decision, however, simply sends the case back to the district court with the instructions that representatives of this particular voting district can apply to seek relief.

Even though Chief Justice John Roberts noted that "we are a very different nation" than when the Voting Rights Act was first passed in 1965, he still wrote in his majority opinion: "Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today."

Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court's only black justice and the sole dissenter in the case, was critical of his colleagues for not addressing Section 5's constitutionality, writing: "The violence, intimidation and subterfuge that led Congress to pass Section 5 and this Court to uphold it no longer remains."

"It's deeply disappointing that the Court chose to avoid its responsibility and rule Section 5 unconstitutional," added Project 21's Massie. "By allowing potential relief on a case-by-case basis, the Court is denying equal justice to all. The only reason is likely a lack of intestinal fortitude in dealing with the predicted outcry of the professional racemongers - who already cajoled Congress into renewing the Act without due diligence three years ago. So much for checks and balances."

Project 21 participated in the case by joining an amici curiae ("friend of the Court") brief on the case with the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Center for Equal Opportunity. The brief sought to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, pointing out that the conditions existing at the time the Act was written no longer exist and thus render the regional preclearance regulation of Section 5 obsolete. A copy of the brief can be obtained at

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