Yesterday Alabama filed suit in federal court asking for approval of the state’s redistricting plan. Alabama is one of nine states with a history of discrimination that the Voting Rights Act requires to get preclearance before making any changes to election procedures. Usually the states ask the Justice Department, but Alabama decided to go straight to federal court.
The suit asks a panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to declare that Alabama’s redistricing plan, approved by the legislature in May, does not deny or abridge the right to vote based on race or color. Alternatively, Alabama is asking the panel to decide that Section 5, the preclearance provision, of the VRA is unconstitutional.
Alabama and several other Southern states or counties need federal approval for election changes under the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of their histories of voter discrimination.
Thursday’s lawsuit from Alabama also takes aim at that requirement: If the court doesn’t grant a declaratory judgment, Alabama argues it should find the preclearance provision and its 2006 amendments unconstitutional.
Democrats in the legislature argue that the redistricting plan discriminates against voters of color in an attempt to favor Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said the attorney general’s office wants to avoid the justice department’s preclearance process because the Legislature “passed a racially gerrymandered plan.”
“It’s a ridiculous waste of taxpayer’s money,” Bedford said of the lawsuit. He said Republicans are trying to circumvent the way voting changes have been approved in Alabama for the last 40 years.
Section 5 was last upheld by the Supreme Cour in 2009, but was left in a precarious position by Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority decision. Roberts noted that Section 5 is a significant intrusion on state and local rights and responsibilities and concluded that the VRA itself now “raises serious constitutional questions.” Because some of the discriminatory conditions that originally necessitated the VRA have improved, the significant burdens imposed by preclearance requirements may no longer be justified.
Two challenges to the VRA have reached the Supreme Court and are expected to be taken up next term. There have been more challenges to the Voting Rights Act in the past two years than in the previous 45