Recent history, he said, underscores the state’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act, he said. Some may be unhappy with redistricting, but that’s politics, he said, noting that the plan was cleared by the Justice Department because it would not diminish minority representation. In fact, he said, it has been 16 years since the department objected to a statewide pre-clearance submission from Alabama.
In a state that once virtually refused to register black voters, the difference between white and black registration has been eliminated, the state says. And in the 2004 and 2008 general elections, black voter turnout was greater than that of whites.
The Obama administration’s defense of the law reminds the court that Congress took note of progress in the nine states covered by Section 5 — besides Alabama, they are the Southern states of Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as Alaska and Arizona — and decided such a strict measure was still needed.
“Congress held 21 hearings, amassing thousands of pages of evidence,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. wrote in the federal government’s brief. “And in an era of sharp partisan division within the legislative branch, Congress voted nearly unanimously to reauthorize Section 5.”
Included among those voting yes in 2006 were Alabama’s two conservative Republican senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. Spokesmen for both last week said they stood behind their votes.
“There’s a very easy explanation for that,” said state Solicitor General John C. Neiman Jr. “A person who voted against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act would be called in the press and in the public debate someone who voted against voting rights. The path of least resistance for Congress was simply to re-up for another 25 years.”
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices seemed receptive to Neiman’s assessment the last time the issue came up, in 2009. The court sidestepped the constitutionality of Section 5 then, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered a warning.
“Things have changed in the South,” he wrote, adding: “The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”
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