Arizona's first-term Republican attorney general is trying to make his bones
with the conservative movement:
The state of Arizona filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the federal government’s authority to enforce part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, becoming the first state to challenge the constitutionality of sections of the federal law that bars states from denying or limiting a person’s right to vote based on their race or color.
A provision in the law that requires several states including Arizona to get approval from the Justice Department for changes in voting procedures is unconstitutional, state Attorney General Tom Horne argues in the suit, which was filed in District of Columbia District Court.
“The portions of the Voting Rights Act requiring preclearance of all voting changes are either archaic, not based in fact, or subject to completely subjective enforcement based on the whim of federal authorities,” Horne said in a statement as the suit was filed.
The provision to which the excerpt above refers is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, also known as "preclearance." Any time a covered jurisdiction makes any change to voting procedures, that proposed alteration must be submitted to the Department of Justice, which vets it to ensure the change does not discriminate against any voters on the basis of race or language minority status. Covered jurisdictions (see a map here) include those with a history of denying the franchise to racial or language minorities, based on a set of evolving tests, which is why Section 5 affects places as far flung as Alabama, Arizona and even Manhattan.
But it's important to note that the overwhelming majority of changes—which include things like increasing the length of a term of office, moving polling places or adopting new redistricting plans—are granted preclearance. When preclearance is denied, jurisdictions can either go back to the drawing board or sue in federal court. Covered jursidictions can also seek permanent removal from Section 5 (known as "bail out"), essentially by showing a record of good behavior.
In other words, preclearance is rarely a problem (fewer than one in a thousand changes draw an objection from the DoJ); jurisdictions have sufficient recourse if they do get denied preclearance; and they can simply get out of the system entirely without too much effort. Yet even though the VRA was reauthorized almost unanimously in 2006 (98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House), for movement conservatives, this alleged "intrustion" on to local sovereignty is just too much to bear. And needless to say, the fact that Section 5 exists to remedy past wrongs means nothing to them.
Of course, there's no telling what might happen with such a lawsuit—the Roberts Supreme Court might indeed be ready to nuke Section 5, even though it's been the law of the land for almost fifty years. But it will likely be a few years before we see any sort of ruling on that. In my view, this is more about Horne demonstrating that he's part of the teabagger vanguard and positioning himself for future political office. For a guy like Horne, whether Section 5's constitutionality is upheld or not is probably irrelevant; what matters to his admirers is that he tried to end it. If a key part of the Voting Rights Act should happen to wind up a victim, well, that's just gravy—and that's just how politicians pandering to right-wingers work.