U.S. Supreme Court hears county’s challenge to Voting Rights Act

Published 2:03 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Voting Rights Act from Shelby County representatives today in Washington D.C.

The county specifically challenged the constitutionality of section 4b and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted in 1965 to try to eliminate voting discrimination in historically discriminatory areas. This included at least some counties in 16 states, including Shelby County.

As a result of section 5, which Congress extended in 2006 for an additional 25 years, those certain jurisdictions must obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before making any changes to voting procedure or electoral maps.

During a telephone briefing with the American Civil Liberties Union, Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said he predicted four Supreme Court justices in support of section 5 and four with reservations about the section’s constitutionality. McDonald said he judged Justice Anthony Kennedy to have the “swing vote.”

Calera Pastor Harold Jones, a defendant in the case, said during the briefing Shelby County has not changed enough to eliminate section 5, as the section is a “safety net for the minority community.”

“I think there are many things that would have happened if not for section 5,” Jones said. “People didn’t volunteer to do the right thing, and section 5 made them do the right thing.

“We’re not just going to allow this thing to die out when so many people have fought to get section 5 in place,” he added. “I want to make sure it’s in our future, and that’s why we’re in Washington today fighting for this.”

In Shelby County’s case, all expenses are being paid by the Project for Fair Representation, a not-for-profit legal defense fund that supports litigation challenging racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.

“I think it went well. I’m happy the Supreme Court saw fit to hear our case,” said Shelby County attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis Feb. 27 during a phone interview from a Washington D.C. airport. “Shelby County is a dynamic, fast growing, forward looking county of diverse Alabamians. I’m hoping to court sees that and recognizes the great strides Shelby County and other jurisdictions have made in the last 45 years. We’ll have to wait and see now. In June, their session ends. We’ll have to wait it out.”