WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of “preclearance” standards in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Project 21 black leadership network announced it has filed a legal brief with the court arguing that the Department of Justice is using an obsolete portion of that law to justify a “race-conscious administration of justice” and to obstruct voting laws in the states and localities affected by the provision.
“I agree with the petitioner’s argument that the Justice Department under the leadership of Eric Holder has engaged in aggressive enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “And since Congress failed to act on ways to modify the law for modern-day standards, local and state governments have been left with the only remedy available: the Supreme Court.”
In the case Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder Jr., Shelby County the high court is being ask to invalidate the requirement for some jurisdictions to obtain preclearance for any changes in voting rights procedures based on previous racial discrimination. The states and localities, including several in Florida, which are covered under Section 5 of the Act must obtain federal approval for all voting procedure changes.
Project 21, a voice of black conservatives for nearly two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank established in 1982.
The group argues that the preclearance requirement, imposed 48 years ago, was intended to be an “extreme temporary measure” when adopted but that Congress has repeatedly failed to address changing demographics and the evolution of American society over the past half century.
“Section 5… is not consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution…,” Project 21 argues in its brief. “(N)ew circumstances now place even covered jurisdictions well ahead of where non-covered jurisdictions were in 1965 and provide an ongoing political check against backsliding. The urgent necessity for extreme measures such as preclearance is thus well past and such legislation is no longer appropriate.”
The brief claims that Section 5 “has become a tool for requiring racial classifications and race-based redistricting.”
Shelby County officials have sued to end the preclearance requirement. Project 21 insists that the lawsuit is not meant to have the court overturn the Voting Rights Act in its entirety but merely remedy the “dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states.”
The group in a statement on its brief, accuses the Obama administration of using Section 5 “to pursue policies meant to promote political power based solely on racial identity,” claiming in its brief that the Justice Department’s “vote-dilution views and conduct actually treat block voting somewhat schizophrenically.”
“Block voting by minority groups, for example,” the brief says, “is effectively favored and encouraged and if successful would be taken as evidence that discrimination has been defeated… That the identical conduct by non-minority voters is deemed as evidence of unconstitutional discrimination requiring congressional remedy shows the contradictions.”
“Section 5 itself is now a central tool for institutionalized racial discrimination at the command of the (Obama Justice Department) itself,” the brief claims.
The group said the administration used Section 5 to block voter ID requirements in 2012, “even though the constitutionality of photo ID was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County.”
“Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to ensure that all Americans had access to the ballot. The Obama Justice Department’s abuse of this authority to favor his political allies makes a mockery of the Voting Rights Act,” Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former congressional leadership aide and constitutional law professor, said.