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Lawyers’ Committee Applauds Court Decision Upholding Section 5, a Vital Provision of the Voting Rights Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 21, 2011

CONTACTS:

Stacie B. Royster (202) 662-8317 / (202) 445-6101 
sroyster@lawyerscommittee.org

Angelo Kakolyris (212) 259-8187 / (646) 361-5287 
akakolyris@dl.com

Lawyers’ Committee Applauds Court Decision Upholding Section 5,
a Vital Provision of the Voting Rights Act

 WASHINGTON, D.C., September 21, 2011 - Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act against a challenge by Shelby County, Alabama, a largely-white suburb of Birmingham.  The court ruled that Congress acted appropriately when it reauthorized the preclearance requirement of Section 5 in 2006.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law intervened in the case to defend Section 5, representing Bobby Lee Harris, a Shelby County resident and a former member of the Alabaster, Alabama city council.

“Today’s decision properly recognizes the important role that Section 5 plays in combating voting discrimination,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee, who argued the case on behalf of Mr. Harris before the court.

The district court’s decision confirms the overwhelming congressional consensus, in 2006, that this vital provision of the Voting Rights Act still is needed to ensure voting equality for minority citizens.  Section 5 requires that states and localities with a history of voting discrimination submit any changes in their voting practices and procedures for federal review before putting them into effect. 

Section 5 has been responsible for blocking over one thousand discriminatory voting changes since its enactment in 1965, changes that would have undermined the right to vote of countless citizens.  In the next few years, Section 5 will remain invaluable as states, counties, cities, and school districts redraw their voting districts based on the 2010 Census.  Simply put, Section 5 has played and will continue to play a critical role in what is still an ongoing struggle to eliminate racial discrimination in voting in this country. 

“I know from first-hand experience how important Section 5 is for minority voters,” said Mr. Harris.  “In 2000, Section 5 prevented Alabaster from redrawing the boundaries of the ward I represented so as to dilute minority voting strength.”

“Judge Bates’ ruling preserves the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, which has been and will continue to be our country’s most important means for preserving the right to vote and preventing discrimination in the electoral process,” said John Nonna, a Lawyers’ Committee board member, partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, and co-counsel along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Bobby Lee Harris.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., is the named defendant in this lawsuit.  Other Shelby County residents who intervened to defend Section 5 are represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The District Court’s opinion may be found here.  A Fact Sheet providing further information about this lawsuit and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is available here.

UPDATE: On September 28, the Lawyers’ Committee published further analysis of the Court’s opinion on the ACS Blog.  Click here to read the post.

About the Lawyers’ Committee

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice.  For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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