Ellis: U.S. Supreme Court ruling ‘step in the right direction’

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

A Jan. 20 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is “a step in the right direction” for Shelby County’s challenge to portions of the Voting Rights Act, according to County Attorney Butch Ellis.

In the case of Perry v. Perez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal trial court was wrong to disregard the Texas Legislature’s plan to redraw the state’s district lines for the 2012 elections.

While the Texas Legislature was waiting for preclearance from the federal government to use its new district maps, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas prepared its own redistricting plans, which expressly disregarded the plans already drawn by the Legislature.

The state of Alabama filed an amicus brief in support of Texas that was joined by several other states covered in whole or part by Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which require certain states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination to get approval from the justice department before making changes to voting districts or procedures.

The county is challenging Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act in the case Shelby County v. Holder.

“The court says you can’t just ignore the state of Texas and their legislative process willy-nilly without taking it into consideration,” Ellis said of the Perry v. Perez ruling. “It’s going in the right direction, as far as we’re concerned.”

Ellis said Shelby County’s challenge is intended to challenge the constitutionality of the preclearance requirement, while the Perry v. Perez ruling simply says the federal government should take states’ wishes into account.

“We’re basically making a frontal assault on Section 5, which requires preclearance,” Ellis said. “(The U.S. Supreme Court ruling) doesn’t directly address the issue that we raise in our brief. It is a step in the right direction.”