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Thu04172014

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Supreme Court to hear Voting Rights challenge

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After hearing oral arguments earlier on whether an affirmative action program at the University of Texas is constitutional, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to review a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, paving the way for the court to rule on two major civil rights issues by next summer.

The court agreed last Friday (Nov. 16) to hear a case from Shelby County, Ala. that questions whether Congress exceeded its authority when it voted in 2006 to renew Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires jurisdictions covered by the legislation to pre-clear any election law changes with the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Oral arguments in the voting case are expected to be held in February, with rulings in both the voting rights and affirmative cases likely to be announced next summer. Two lower courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act extension.

The Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965. Section 5 was extended by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and for another 25 years in 2006. It was approved the last time with broad bipartisan support.

Shelby County, the fastest growing county in Alabama, argues that the pre-clearance provision of Section 5 violates the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution. Both provisions grant states power to regulate its elections.

Shelby County went to court after the Justice Department rejected a redistricting plan that apparently played a role in the defeat of Ernest Montgomery, the only black member of the 5-member city council in Calera, Ala.

Montgomery was elected to the council in 2004 from a district that was nearly 71 percent black. The district was redrawn two years later, reducing the black presence to 23 percent. Montgomery narrowly lost his 2008 re-election bid to a white challenger. But the Justice Department invalidated the election because district changes had not been pre-cleared.

Attorney generals in six states covered by Section 5 – Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas – filed a joint brief in support of Shelby County.

Surprisingly, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African American communities through entrepreneurship," filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Shelby County's position opposing continued federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act.

"...Section 5 is no longer necessary to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting and now, perversely, serves as an impediment to racial neutrality in voting and to the empowerment of state and local officials who represent minority constituencies," the National Black Chamber of Commerce said in its brief.

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