Q: The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a major Voting Rights Act case that seeks to overturn a provision requiring states with a history of discrimination at the polls to obtain permission from the federal government before changing election procedures. What are the implications of that case, both nationally and in New York? Will New York appear as amicus curiae?
A: The Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder case was filed in 2009 and seeks to gut a core provision of the Voting Rights Act that has played a profound role in blocking and deterring voting discrimination in certain parts of our country. This provision, the Section 5 preclearance provision, applies to 16 states and requires that they seek federal approval before implementing new voting changes. It's an incredibly important law that continues to play a key role today by preventing jurisdictions from erecting new obstacles and barriers.
I presented oral argument in this case before the D.C. District Court prior to my arrival at the attorney general's office. During that argument, I presented an overview of the tremendous legislative record that was developed by Congress during its 2006 reauthorization hearings of the Section 5 preclearance provision. During those hearings, Congress developed a record replete with evidence of ongoing discrimination, including intentionally discriminatory conduct that squarely violates the protections afforded by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
As the case now goes before the Supreme Court, we must all be concerned. The Voting Rights Act is perhaps one of our nation's most important and effective federal civil rights laws. Events within those states subject to the Section 5 preclearance provision stand as evidence that we still need the protections provided by this law. Section 5 provides the strong medicine necessary to block and resist efforts to turn the clock back on the fragile progress that we have made and I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will defer to Congress' considered judgment that the law continues to occupy an important place in our democracy.