Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a small case from Texas which could have significant consequences if the Roberts Court decides to engage in conservative judicial activism.
The case is brought by a small municipal utility district from Austin, Texas and challenges the Section 5 "preclearance" provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, and renewed regularly by the Congress. (Arizona and Pima County are required to submit election plans to the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Section for preclearance before every election.)
Congress conducted some 22 hearings in 2006 before concluding that "despite the progress made by minorities [under the Voting Rights Act], the evidence before Congress reveals that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard." Congress reauthorized the Act in 2006 with votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House.
Now this municipal utility district in Texas is arguing that it is unconstitutional, and that it imposes too many burdens on jurisdictions covered by it. The Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District argues that it has no history of voting-related discrimination yet has been stuck for decades under this "uniquely intrusive" law.
On its face, the district's central argument is about the proper limitations of federal power. But on another level, it is part of a broader battle between liberals and conservatives over the status of America's long struggle with racism. A subtext of the argument is that so much progress has been made in America since the 1960s that it is now time to put such pesky anti-discrimination remedies as Section 5 behind us.
"The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African American president is far different than when Section 5 was first enacted in 1965," write the lawyers for the district, pointing to "deep-rooted societal change" that has transformed the country. . .
The idea is that in the new, improved, post-racial America, racism is becoming a thing of the past, inequities are being remedied, gaps are closing -- and we can finally do away with affirmative action and other race-conscious remedies that have made us so uncomfortable for so many years. Then we can all get back to the simpler business of equal justice and equal rights.
"It's pretty to think so, but this page isn't buying it." A Texas challenge to the Voting Rights Act - Los Angeles Times "We don't believe that a jurisdiction should be stuck on the list forever. But nor do we believe that the time has come to tear out the heart of the Voting Rights Act. We're a better country than we once were, but we have a long way to go."
"If the Supreme Court — which is expected to hear arguments in the case this spring — strikes down Section 5, it would be breaking radically with its own precedents. The court has repeatedly upheld the Voting Rights Act against challenges, and as recently as 2006 it ruled that complying with Section 5 is a compelling state interest. It would also be an extreme case of conservative judicial activism, since the 14th and 15th Amendments expressly authorize Congress to enact laws of this sort to prevent discrimination in voting." Uphold the Voting Rights Act - NYTimes.com
"Some people claim that Barack Obama’s election has ushered in a “postracial” America, but the truth is that race, and racial discrimination, are still very much with us. The Supreme Court should keep this reality in mind when it considers a challenge to an important part of the Voting Rights Act that it recently agreed to hear. The act is constitutional — and clearly still needed."