Section 5, a key component of the Voting Rights Act, requires 16 states with a history of racial discrimination to seek Justice Department approval before implementing any changes to the way in which elections are held. Those calling to end Section 5 oversight claim that the election of President Obama proves that the provision is no longer requisite. That contention runs contrary to the reality of Obama’s victory - more than half of the states mandated for federal oversight by Section 5 did not favor President Obama in the 2008 elections.
Four years ago, Congress conducted an extensive review, concluding that Section 5 is still necessary to prevent minority citizens from being deprived of the right to wholly participate in American civic life. In 2006, with widespread bipartisan support, Congress voted to reauthorize Section 5, which President Bush signed into law. Shortly thereafter, the Petitioner - Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One - filed suit challenging the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. Last spring, the D.C. District Court rejected the Petitioner's claims of exemption from the preclearance provision, and concluded that Section 5 is constitutional.
In essence, despite the historical significance of this nation's first African-American president, the enduring effects of Jim Crow era legislation remain measureable. As a result, the outcome of this case can affect the very core of American electoral process, and could potentially destroy the strides this nation has made towards racial equity. In addition, such a ruling could have a dramatic impact on the way in which the federal government can exercise oversight to ensure state legislative compliance.
We, as a nation, are at a crossroads. On one hand, we can choose to believe disingenuous claims of a ‘post-racial society’ based on less than compelling evidence provided by individuals with questionably opaque agendas. On the other hand, we can begin to identify the strides this country continues to make towards racial equity – acknowledging our successes and failures, and identifying best practices to employ while moving forward. As responsible Americans, it is incumbent upon us to employ the latter course of action, not to allow ourselves to be fooled by those that seek to take advantage of a historic American moment. Oral arguments for this crucial voting rights case will be heard on April 29.