WASHINGTON (AP) – While blacks in several states are racing against time to wrest the ballot from Republican-controlled legislatures around the country, a black conservative group has asked the U.S. Suprene Court to review the constitutionality of a section of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
The Project 21 black leadership network announced it recently filed a legal brief asking the nation’s highest court to accept a case regarding the constitutionality of what it calls the “outdated” portion of the law requiring some states to get preclearance of plans to modify their election laws.
Project 21 says that provision creates “a dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states.”
“It is essential that the Supreme Court weigh in and eliminate outmoded provisions that treat modern-day state and local government decisions as if they were being made by the Dixiecrats of long ago,” Project 21 member Horace Cooper said in a statement announcing the move.
Cooper is a former senior counsel to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives who taught law at George Mason University.
The announcement said Project 21 has joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder Jr. The brief was prepared by the Pacific Legal Foundation and is also joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity.
In the case, Shelby County officials are asking the court to invalidate “preclearance” standards imposed on specific states and localities by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Five Florida counties are covered by that section of the law: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.
Project 21 notes that the section is premised on discriminatory practice in the election of 1964 and it requires that any changes in voting procedures in the specific counties and even some whole states must get prior approval from the federal government.
But the group argues that the Voting Rights Act is an “extreme temporary measure” enacted at a specific time and accuses Congress of failing “to address changing demographics and the evolution of American society during subsequent reauthorizations of the Act.”
"Today, Section 5 continues to place only certain state and local governments under a form of federal receivership, often without rhyme or reason. However, the ‘insidious and pervasive evil’ of racism in the Deep South, which once justified Section 5's uniquely burdensome remedy, has greatly diminished,” the brief argues.
The Project 21 announcement says officials of Shelby County, which has sued the federal government over Section 5, do not wish to overturn the entire Voting Rights Act, just the “preclearance” requirement.
“Failure to review Section 5 would make these dramatic changes de facto permanent.
“The famous federalism that has sustained our Constitution would take a back seat to partisan politics,” the brief says.”
Ignoring the widespread concerns over recently passed laws in GOP-controlled legislatures which critics say restrict voting by minorities, the brief goes
on to say, “(T)he unconscionable and deliberate vote suppression tactics that were implemented by governments in the Deep South in 1965, and which were the sole justification for the temporary intrusiveness of Section 5, have been eradicated.
The Jim Crow inspired arriers to voting, such as intentionally discriminatory literacy tests and poll taxes, are no longer in use, and the numbers of minority officeholders are at historically high levels, as are levels of minority electoral participation.
While the intrusiveness of Section 5 is suspect as an initial matter, it is significantly more so when the states and jurisdictions subjected to its burdens cannot be reconciled by contemporary voting or discrimination statistics.”
Project 21 spokeswoman Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, touched on the ongoing controversy of new voter ID laws, saying in the announcement that such laws are “commonsense protections” that have become “targets for partisan government employees in Washington.”
LeBon charged that the Voting Rights Act had become “politicized.”