[JURIST] The United States District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled Friday that a major provision in the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text; DOJ backgrounder] is constitutional. The court's decision [PDF text] in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Gonzales [JURIST report; DOJ case documents] upheld the validity of Section 5 of the VRA, requiring states or towns with histories of racial discrimination to get Justice Department (DOJ) [official website] or court approval prior to making changes with their election procedures. The plaintiff in the case, a municipal utility district in Texas, had asked for an exemption to the law and argued that Section 5 is not neutrally applied to all 50 states. The court denied the exemption because it found that the plaintiff was not a “political subdivision” and it rejected the plaintiff's argument on constitutionality because it found that Congress's action in extending the provisions for another 25 years was rational.
The US House of Representatives and the Senate [JURIST reports] passed the renewal bill in July 2006 and President Bush signed it into law [JURIST report] the following August. Section 5 is intended to protect voters in states with histories of racial profiling at the polls, and only allows changes in voter protocol that do not have a racially discriminatory purpose and will not negatively impact minority voters. AP has more.