[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] decided [text, PDF] to uphold Section 5 [DOJ backgrounder] of the Voting Rights Act [text] Friday, affirming the ruling of the district court below [JURIST report]. Section 5 requires covered jurisdictions to clear changes in voting districts, polling places and other electoral processes with the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] or federal courts. It relies heavily on patterns of past discrimination to determine which state, county and local governments must obtain pre-clearance for election changes. According to the DOJ [list of jurisdictions], nine states and many additional individual counties and municipalities are Section 5 covered jurisdictions. This particular challenge comes from Shelby County, Alabama. In validating the re-authorization of the Section 5, Judge David S. Tatel [official profile] wrote in his opinion:
Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered and acted pursuant to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote—surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution—is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the People’s elected representatives.
The Senate voted to extend the act, including the Section 5 provision, in 2006 by a vote of 98-0.
There has been significant controversy [JURIST comment] surrounding voting rights recently, especially in regards to voter ID laws that are spreading around the US. There are now 30 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the poll, including 11 states that require photo ID. The DOJ has rejected the Texas and South Carolina [JURIST reports] voter ID law. Last year Missouri’s Governor vetoed a proposed photo ID law, and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a law [JURIST reports] requiring one of six government-issued photo IDs. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [JURIST report] a portion of Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. Florida and Arizona [JURIST reports] are also currently bringing challenges to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.