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D.C. Circuit Set to Hear Voting Rights Act Preclearance Cases

By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on January 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While the Supreme Court gets ready for a redistricting battle, Texas-style, this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is gearing up for its own closely-watched set of Voting Rights Act cases in the next two months.

Lawsuits from both Alabama and North Carolina aimed at striking down the Act's Section 5 preclearance requirement have made their way to the D.C. Circuit, and hearings have been scheduled in January and February respectively.

Under Section 5, nine states must receive preclearance from the Department of Justice for changes to their electoral procedures.

In the Alabama case, the petitioners - a coalition of conservative legal groups from Shelby County - argued that the requirement exceeds Congress’ enforcement authority and violates the Tenth Amendment. Further, the groups argue that the Voting Rights Act has outlived its purpose of guaranteeing the right to vote for minorities.

The district court, however, adamantly disagreed with that position. In his opinion, Judge John Bates wrote, “Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that virtually unprecedented legislative record, the Court concludes that ‘current needs’ - the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting - do, in fact justify Congress’s 2006 reauthorization of the preclearance requirement.”

Judge Bates also threw out the Section 5 challenge from North Carolina, and the plaintiffs in that case swiftly requested expedited action to the DC Circuit so the North Carolina case could be decided along with the Alabama case. Both states argue that Section 5 is unconstitutional, but the North Carolina case goes one step further in also arguing reverse discrimination - Section 5 provides unequal treatment for whites.

Although petitioners from both states are set on having the D.C. Circuit decide their cases as soon as possible, it won’t be an easy ride for the appellate court. The preclearance requirement is a touchy issue that even Chief Justice John Roberts has called “a difficult constitutional question” which the Supreme Court refused to answer in another 2009 Texas case.

Given the importance of a decision on any of the Voting Rights Act cases for the upcoming presidential election, all eyes will be on both Washington, D.C. courts the next few months.

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