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Texas Voting Rights Challenge Goes to the Supreme Court

April 1, 2009

Robert Barnes at the Washington Post has a piece on a Supreme Court case that could strike down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act:

The Supreme Court will consider this month whether the neighborhood’s tiny utility board should continue to be among the states and local governments that bear the Voting Rights Act’s heaviest burden — pre-clearance by federal authorities for even the smallest changes in election laws and procedures — and whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 by extending the restrictions for 25 years.

This case involves modifications to the voting location for choosing the members of the municipal utility district in the Canyon Creek neighborhood of Austin. The case itself turns on important but technical restrictions on modification of voting regulations and procedures which are covered by the act as a buffer against the possible return of discriminatory electoral procedures practiced in this area prior to the passage of the original Voting Rights Act. But the more interesting question, I think, is the very general proposition the applies more broadly to race-relations in the United States,

Is a law conceived in the time of Jim Crow still relevant in the age of Barack Obama?

This has become a theme of the conservative activists who are challenging the law.

President Obama’s election “stands as a remarkable testament to the tremendous progress this country has made in terms of racial equality and voting rights,” the Pacific Legal Foundation and others said in a brief filed with the court.

In other words, has discrimination ended–and therefore, is there no longer a compelling government interest in passing laws to battle discrimination–as a result of the election of an African American as president? The answer, I think, is clear. The election of Barack Obama reflects great progress in the racial perceptions of the white electorate. But it would be a particularly troubling irony if that racial progress was used as a lever to pry hard-won legal protections away from America’s minorities.

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