Attorneys in two cases challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text] filed petitions on Friday with the US Supreme Court [official website] asking it to settle the issue in its upcoming term. The first case, Nix v. Holder [petition, PDF], originates from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] using the Section 5 [DOJ backgrounder] preclearance provision to block Kinston County, North Carolina, from implementing a nonpartisan local election system, claiming this would cause candidates whom black voters prefer to receive fewer "cross-over votes" from white voters. Nix was pending remand in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] when that court decided Shelby County v. Holder [petition, PDF], which upheld the VRA as constitutional and led the court to enter summary judgment against the plaintiffs in Nix. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] affirmed [opinion, JURIST report] the lower court's decision earlier this year, relying on Supreme Court precedent in South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) and City of Rome v. United States (1980) [opinions], which both previously upheld the provision. The petitioners argue, however, that these decisions were made in light of extreme circumstances which made it necessary for Section 5 to allow the DOJ to use preclearance of new voting laws in counties with previous histories of racism, but that these conditions are no longer so extreme and the section is not necessary for Congress to ensure equal protection under the 15th Amendment [text].
Voting laws have been a controversial issue throughout the US recently. Last month, the US District Court for the District of Columbia heard another challenge [JURIST report] to the DOJ's use of Section 5 in Texas to block implementation of a voter identification law. A federal judge last month also refused the DOJ's request to issue a temporary injunction against Florida's continued practice of purging its voter rolls. The DOJ also blocked a South Carolina voter identification law in December which would have required citizens to present a government-issued ID before voting. In 2009, the Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] the 1965 Voting Rights Act against challenges to Section 5's bail-out provision, but avoided the issue of whether or not the 2006 extension of Section 5 is constitutional.