Decision on Voting Rights Act coming by end of the month

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The U.S. Supreme Court likely will issue its final ruling on Shelby County’s challenge of two sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the end of June, according to County Attorney Butch Ellis.

The ruling will mark the end of a nearly three-year process since Shelby County challenged the constitutionality of sections 4b and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The two sections require Shelby County and cities in 16 other states with histories of racial discrimination to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before making any changes to voting procedure or electoral maps.

Shelby County filed the challenge after Congress voted in 2006 to extend Section 5 for an additional 25 years.

“We know the ruling won’t come this week,” Ellis said during a June 13 interview. “So it will be next week or possibly the next week before it happens.”

The Supreme Court will break for the summer at the end of June.

Ellis previously said sections 4b and 5 cause a significant financial burden for Shelby County and its municipalities by requiring them to file for preclearance each time a poll location is moved or new voting districts are proposed.

If the Supreme Court agrees to strike down sections 4b and 5, other sections of the Voting Rights Act will still remain in effect, Ellis said.

“The Voting Rights Act still has Section 2, which Congress always intended to be permanent,” Ellis said, noting Section 2 prohibits voting discrimination based on race, skin color and a number of other factors. “When Congress passed sections 5 and 4b in 1965, they said it was only going to be in effect for five years. Here we are more than 45 years later.”

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 27 from those in favor of repealing the two sections and those opposed to the repeals.

During his argument, Ellis said Shelby County and the other jurisdictions covered under sections 4b and 5 have made “great strides” since the Voting Rights Act went into effect.