ACLU Calls on Congress to Correct Provision in Voting Rights Act: Court Decision on Redistricting Undermines Intent of Historic Civil Rights Law

November 9, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -The American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers to restore a section of the Voting Rights Act that protects the right of Americans to elect candidates of their choice. Section 5 of the act prevents voting discrimination by requiring new voting laws and practices to be evaluated and precleared before they can take effect. A Supreme Court ruling in 2003, though, eroded that safeguard. The ACLU testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution that Section 5, which is undergoing Congressional review, must be restored to its intended meaning and reauthorized along with several other provisions that are set to expire in 2007.

In Georgia v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court interpreted Section 5 of the act to allow approval of redistricting plans even if the plans weaken the ability of a minority community to elect its candidates of choice, so long as the minority population still has “influence.” In other words, districts can be redrawn – with the approval of the federal government – to limit the electoral power of a minority group if “other factors” supposedly “balance” the retrogressive impact of the changes.

“Jurisdictions that have taken one step forward should not be allowed to take two steps back,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “The danger of the court’s opinion is that it may allow states to turn minority voters into second class voters, who can ‘influence’ the election of white candidates but who cannot elect their preferred candidates, including candidates of their own race.”

Today’s hearing is the seventh of nine hearings that the committee has held to examine the history, purpose and current state of the Voting Rights Act and its subsequent amendments.

The ACLU urges Congress to clarify that a state’s failure to preserve the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice is retrogressive, and goes against the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.

“A failure to adopt this much needed change will diminish the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “No American should be denied the right to elect people who will truly represent their values, interests and concerns.”

To read McDonald’s testimony before the subcommittee, go to:
https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/resources/?resourceID=72

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Voting Rights Act, go to:
https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights

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