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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Voting Rights and Redistricting

A court case provides a window into civil rights policy, federalism, the redistricting process, and the role of the judiciary. Cameron Joseph writes at National Journal:

A key federal Appeals Court on Wednesday will hear a legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act, the 45-year-old law that ended more than a century of discrimination at the polls, remade the political landscape of the South--and could be a powerful shield for embattled Democrats in congressional redistricting fights.

The case, which appears certain to end up in the Supreme Court, comes at a critical moment: State lawmakers across the country are preparing for the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative and congressional district lines after the 2010 census.


At stake are key provisions of a venerable civil-rights law designed to eliminate the kinds of discriminatory practices that, for decades before its passage, kept minorities away from the polls and out of office. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires regions with a history of voter discrimination, most of them in the South, to submit their congressional and legislative district maps to the Justice Department or the D.C. Circuit Court for "preclearance," or approval. Section 4(b) of the law defines the areas that have to submit to preclearance based on their history of civil-rights violations.


If the Court does strike down preclearance, civil-rights groups would still be able to sue to have maps changed. But that process is much longer, costlier, and less certain than a decision by a friendly Justice Department. "With the private action, the cases have to be privately financed," [David] Bositis [of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies] said. "For civil-rights groups, there's never enough money."