ACLU Intervenes in Arizona's Challenge of the Voting Rights Act

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
January 12, 2012 4:04 pm

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Federal Court Grants Motion to Intervene in Case Challenging Section of Law That Protects Minorities’ Right to Vote

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WASHINGTON – A federal district court has granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s motion to intervene in a suit brought by Arizona challenging a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that helps ensure voting rights are protected.

“The Voting Rights Act is critical for helping ensure election laws do not discriminate against minority voters,” said Katie O’Connor, staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Arizona and other states should not be challenging legislation designed to protect people’s fundamental right to vote.”

The ACLU and the ACLU of Arizona intervened to help uphold Section 5 of the act, which requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws – including Arizona – to first have changes in their laws approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court in Washington, D.C. The case is part of a growing pattern of challenges by states to the Voting Rights Act, which was first passed in 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement.

The ACLU has also intervened in cases in North Carolina and Alabama, where federal district courts recently upheld Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Like the other cases, Arizona’s suit contends that Section 5, as extended by Congress in 2006, is unconstitutional and that the state should be exempt from the preclearance requirement.

“Thousands of Arizonans can attest to the fact that discrimination in voting continues in Arizona and the need for Section 5 remains,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

The ACLU is arguing that Arizona has a history of implementing measures with a discriminatory impact on minority voters and that the preclearance requirement must be upheld. On Nov. 21, the ACLU filed a motion to intervene in the case, Arizona v. Holder, on behalf of seven registered Arizona voters, including African-Americans, Latinos, a Japanese-American and a Filipino-American.

Plaintiff Napoleon Pisaño, a Latino activist who lives in Mesa, said: “Getting federal approval for voting law changes is critical because it helps prevent discrimination and ensures that the growing number of Latino voters in Arizona can exercise their right to vote. Progress has been made, and Latino voter turnout was impressive during the recent district elections. But now is not the time to give states like Arizona a free pass to create additional barriers to voting.”

Attorneys in the Arizona case include O’Connor and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Daniel Pochoda of the ACLU Foundation of Arizona, and Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.

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