WASHINGTON, D.C. - Legal experts with the Project 21 black leadership network are hailing a ruling that was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court today to bring American civil rights law into the 21st century by recognizing the evolving racial opinions of the American people and how increased fairness has come with such change.
In its decision in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder, Jr., the justices ruled that Section 4 "coverage" provisions within the Voting Rights Act of 1965 do not reflect an America that has changed for the better since the Act was signed into law almost 50 years ago. Up until now, Section 4 was used as a tool to establish certain areas of the country (all or part of 16 states) that needed federal approval to make any changes in their voting laws.
"Federalism and state sovereignty are the big winners today -- and, once again, Eric Holder's Justice Department was the loser," said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former constitutional law professor and congressional leadership staff member. "Fundamentally, the position put forward by Justice Department, if accepted, would have created all kinds of distortions that our nation's founders never intended. We all support voting rights, but the quest for voting rights shouldn't come at the expense of preventing voter fraud nor the equal rights of states."
Project 21 filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") legal brief with the Court in the Shelby County case that stated: "Section 5... is not consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution... [N]ew circumstances now place even covered jurisdictions well ahead of where non-covered jurisdictions were in 1965, and provide an ongoing political check against backsliding. The urgent necessity for extreme measures such as preclearance is thus well past, and such legislation is no longer appropriate."
Section 5 cited discrimination witnessed during the 1964 election to require U.S. Department of Justice or federal court approval regarding any voting law changes -- no mater how small -- in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia (partial), California (partial), Florida (partial), New York (partial), North Carolina (partial), South Dakota (partial), Michigan (partial) and New Hampshire (partial). Shelby County officials sought to remedy the "dramatic upheaval to the relationship between the federal government and the states," and did not seek a complete overturning of the Voting Rights Act.
Although preclearance standards were considered an "extreme temporary measure" when adopted, Congress repeatedly failed to address changing demographics and the evolution of American society during past reauthorizations of the Act.
"My father grew up in the deep south, and I learned from him what transpired before the Voting Rights Act was enacted and why it was necessary at the time. That is not the America we live in today, but the Voting Rights Act was being used as if it is," said Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. "This ruling recognizes that people can change, that America has changed and that a law that presupposes guilt must be reformed to reflect the beauty of human nature."
Project 21's legal brief also charged that the Obama Administration abused the Voting Rights Act in the past to practice racial politics. Noting efforts to promote and protect minority-majority voting districts despite a lack of evidence of minority voter disfranchisement, the Project 21 brief argued: "Section 5 itself is now a central tool for institutionalized racial discrimination at the command of the [Obama Justice Department] itself." The Obama Administration used preclearance restrictions to prevent or delay the enactment of state-level voter ID laws opposed by liberal politicians and special interest groups.
Project 21's LeBon added: "While the institutional racism that justified preclearance restrictions generations ago is not a significant risk to voters now, opponents of polling place protections have abused the Voting Rights Act to block commonsense safeguards such as asking someone for valid identification before handing them a valuable ballot. The Supreme Court's ruling will help stop this modern-day disfranchisement."
In addition to its own brief on the merits, Project 21 joined an earlier legal brief written by the Pacific Legal Foundation and joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity that urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Shelby County case. Members of Project 21, the only conservative group on hand for interviews at the Court on the day the case was argued, were interviewed and cited with regard to the Shelby case over 100 times in 2013 -- including by Reuters, the Westwood One radio network, Blaze TV and the Washington Examiner.