On Feb. 22, for example, there were two events, one by the NAACP, which favors continuation of Section 5 of the rights act, and the Heritage Foundation, which opposes it. Section 5 authorizes the federal government to "pre-clear" major changes in voting law in 16 states or parts of them that in the past kept minorities, particularly African Americans in the South under Jim Crow laws and American Indians in the West, from casting ballots. Civil rights activists say the section is still needed as a means to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; foes say it's outdated, not to mention unconstitutional.
Briefing breakfasts, afternoon seminars, information sessions on the Hill and a coordinated bus campaign that mimics the Freedom Rides of the 1960s all focus on influencing the outcome of Shelby County [Alabama] v. Holder.More than 80 Democratic chiefs of staff, legislative directors and legislative assistants showed up for a presentation on the case made by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Constitution Society, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. The Congressional Black Caucus will address voting issues at a special “order hour” in the House of Representatives Monday evening.
“While the justices play a distinct role in our society and in our country, they’re not divorced from society at large. I can’t see how they couldn’t be influenced by what people think about their actions,” said Ellen Buchman, vice president of field operations for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is planning a rally during Wednesday’s oral arguments.
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized for another 25 years by a 98-0 vote in the Senate and 390-33 vote in the House. In 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of that reauthorization. You can read the opinion here and an analysis of it here.
Andrew Cohen recently wrote about the reauthorization in a thorough explanation of what the Shelby case is about:
And Congress' renewal could hardly have been accompanied by more diligence. "Congress held 21 hearings, heard from scores of witnesses, and amassed more than 15,000 pages of evidence regarding ongoing voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions," Obama Administration lawyers have reminded the justices. Those findings, the feds now argue, are entitled to great judicial deference, even if imperfect, and even if the resulting legislation only covers certain portions of the country with a long history of discrimination in voting practices.In December 2011, employing its authority under Section 5 , the federal government blocked legislation in South Carolina to impose a strict photo-voter ID law that the justice department said would disproportionately keep minority voters from the polls. Just this past August, Section 5 was used by the federal courts to stop a discriminatory Republican redistricting plan and a proposed voter-ID law in Texas.
Without Section 5, those proposals and that redistricting would now be law.