[JURIST] The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Tuesday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] alleging that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) [text] unconstionally infringes on Alaska’s state sovereignty. In the lawsuit, Alaska argued that Section 5 of the VRA [text], known as the preclearance requirement, is unconstitutional because it requires Alaska to seek approval from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] without evidence that the state discriminated against minority voters. Section 5 prevents certain states and counties with a history of discrimination against minorities from changing their voting laws without first obtaining approval from either the DOJ or a three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Alaska became covered by Section 5 due to its large Native American population when the VRA was extended in 1975 to cover language minorities as well as racial ones. Alaska contended [Bloomberg report] in its lawsuit that the preclearance hampers Alaska’s autonomy to create election policy that accounts for local circumstances. It is not yet clear when the district court will rule on the case. The US Supreme Court [official website] may hear a challenge to the VRA in October.
The VRA has been the subject of legal controversy recently. On Monday the DOJ approved Virginia’s voter ID law [JURIST report] finding that it does not violate the VRA. In July attorneys in two cases challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 renewal of the VRA filed petitions on Friday with the Supreme Court asking it to settle the issue in its upcoming term. Earlier in July the US District Court for the District of Columbia heard arguments [JURIST report] in a lawsuit filed by Texas challenging the constitutionality of the VRA. In June JURIST guest columnist Chris Elmendorf opined [JURIST op-ed] that recent statistical findings may contribute to courts declaring Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional, while simultaneously strengthening the provisions in Section 2 of the Act which requires minority plaintiffs to prove that the challenged electoral structures prevent them from “participat[ing] in the political process and elect[ing] candidates of their choice” on equal terms with other voters.