Nation: Court Upholds Section 5 Pre-Clearance’ Provision

Posted June 22, 2009 at 6:44pm

The Supreme Court on Monday avoided making major changes to a central component of landmark civil rights legislation by issuing a narrow ruling that expanded eligibility to bail out of Section 5 requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The court declined to issue a broader ruling that addressed the constitutionality of Section 5’s “pre-clearance— provision.

“That constitutional question has attracted ardent briefs from dozens of interested parties, but the importance of the question does not justify our rushing to decide it,— Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in the 8-1 opinion.

Still, Roberts expressed that members of the court have “serious misgivings about the constitutionality— of Section 5. Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenting vote in the case. Thomas said he would have held that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

Reaction to the decision from both sides of the Section 5 debate was mixed.

“The court’s ruling in this case isn’t a home run for anybody,— said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), a proponent of striking down the pre-clearance provision. “But the court did load the bases for a future case to hit a grand slam.—

Prior to Monday’s ruling, only states or “political subdivisions— — defined as “counties, parishes, and voter-registering subunits— — were allowed to seek to bail out of the pre-clearance provision. The court expanded that definition to include “all political subdivisions,— such as the small Texas utility district that brought the case.

The opinion noted that since 1982, only 17 jurisdictions out of the more than 12,000 covered have successfully bailed out of the pre-clearance requirement.

The decision comes three years after Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with wide majorities in the both chambers.