Federal judge keeps Voting Rights Act challenge moving

Published 12:17 pm Monday, September 27, 2010

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

A federal district court judge ruled Sept. 10 the federal government must move quickly in contesting Shelby County’s challenge against the constitutionality of sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The federal government previously requested time for discovery, which would have helped government lawyers determine whether Shelby County had standing to bring suit, see if Shelby County could get a bailout from the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and gather information about the Voting Rights Act’s constitutionality.

However, District Court Judge John Bates denied the federal government’s request, and ordered the government to file an opposition to Shelby County’s motion for summary judgment by Nov. 15.

County Attorney Butch Ellis said county officials are pleased with the ruling.

“We’re, of course, pleased that the case is not going to be unduly delayed for discovery, which we felt all along was not necessary,” Ellis said. “The court did what we wanted the court to do.”

He said by denying the request for discovery, Bates is allowing the case to move at a quick pace.

“We think it shortens the time frame a good bit,” Ellis said.

The county’s challenge concerns sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making any changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government.

The county filed suit to challenge those sections of the act on April 27.

The Justice Department, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is pushing for Sections 4(b) and 5 to remain in place.