With the Supreme Court hearing on the voting rights case out of Shelby County, Alabama less than a month away, the debate on the controversial Voting Rights Act is already heating up.
A group of political science professors and law scholars have filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief documenting higher rates of prejudice and voting discrimination in areas covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The brief argues that the Supreme Court should uphold the Act stating that the “presence of higher levels of discrimination in covered jurisdictions compared with non-covered locations represents the continuing legacy of the institutionalization of racial discrimination in the political arena.”
The consortium of professors who filed the brief include notable scholars such as Matt Baretto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, associate professor of Law at the University of North Carolina Kareem Crayton.
Section 5, which stipulates that voting laws in certain areas cannot be changed unless the government determines it is not discriminatory, is at the core of the Supreme Court case. Shelby County is suing the federal government saying that the provision is outdated and unnecessary. States that are affected by Section 5 include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and parts of California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Virginia.
“These facts directly dispute the Shelby petitioners’ claims and demonstrate the continuing need for the Voting Rights Act,” Barreto said.
The researchers found that negative racial attitudes among whites were more prevalent in covered jurisdictions with data from the American National Election Study. In Section 5, 17 percent of residents said that Latinos “have too much influence in American politics today,” compared to 8 percent of people in non-Section 5 areas. People in Section 5 areas also have an 11 percent higher anti-immigrant attitude.
But the most significant differences are between covered and non-covered jurisdictions are on vote denial and suppression measures. Section 5 covered states are twice as likely as non-covered states to adopt policies that make voting more difficult for citizens. Of the Section 5 states, 50 percent require or request photo identification to vote. In states not covered, that number is just 16 percent.
“We all look forward to the day when such legislation will not be necessary. Our current reality, however, makes very clear that there is a continued role for the Justice Department and federal courts to guarantee that African-Americans and language minorities do not have their right to vote limited by states and local jurisdictions,” Professor Luis Fraga of the University of Washington, co-author of the report and an expert on the Voting Rights Act, said.
While the new brief produces significant results on prejudice in Section 5 covered areas, many other opinions and arguments have also been laid out before the justices. Groups in support of Shelby County argue that states should have the ability to regulate their own elections. The American Unity Legal Defense Fund has said that the current burdens imposed by the Voting Rights Act “on the covered jurisdictions cannot be justified by current needs.”
The Supreme Court will hear the case on February 27th.