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Post date: December 9 2011

A.G. Schneiderman Takes Legal Action To Protect Voting Rights Act Against Constitutional Challenge

New York, Mississippi & California File Joint Defense In D.C. Circuit Court

Argue Law Provides Important Protections For Minority Voters, Blocks Ongoing Discrimination & Prevents Disenfranchisement

Schneiderman: My Office Will Always Stand Up To Protect Our Fundamental Civil Rights

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed papers in the case of Shelby County, AL v. Holder, defending core provisions of the Voting Rights Act against a constitutional challenge. The brief, filed jointly with Mississippi and California in the D.C. Circuit Court, argues that the court should reject efforts to strike down key parts of the law given the important role that the Voting Rights Act plays in protecting minority voters and preventing discrimination and disenfranchisement.

The brief was filed on the eve of the National Day of Action to protect voting rights. Communities in New York and across the country are expected to participate on Saturday, December 10.

“The Voting Rights Act is one of our country’s most sacred civil rights laws and its protections remain vital to ensure that all voters have equal access to the democratic process,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The key provisions challenged by this lawsuit are necessary to our ongoing work to support political participation. Section 5 helps eliminate discriminatory barriers before they can take root. Just as we would stand up to challenge any effort that undermines equality, my office will always stand up to protect our fundamental civil rights.”

The constitutional challenge by Shelby County in Alabama takes aim at the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. The preclearance provision requires certain jurisdictions to obtain federal approval before implementing changes to voting procedures to ensure that they were not adopted with a discriminatory purpose, and will not negatively impact minority voter participation.

The preclearance provision applies to Kings, Bronx and New York Counties and has provided important protections for minority voters in New York State.

The law also applies to the State of Mississippi and parts of California, among other states.

The plaintiffs argue that Section 5 is no longer required and claim that Congress exceeded its powers when it reauthorized the law in 2006.

The plaintiff also argues that the law is intrusive on states and argues that its protections are no longer necessary in the 16 states where the law applies.

Attorney General Schneiderman, along with Mississippi and California, provided a stark contrast to those contentions, asserting that Section 5 is an appropriate and carefully tailored tool that helps enforce the guarantees enshrined in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Their friend-of-the-court brief outlines evidence of Section 5’s role in blocking discrimination and highlights the important deterrent effects of the law.

The brief makes clear the good government benefits of the Section 5 preclearance requirement in combating discrimination in voting.

A full copy of the brief is available here.

Marc Morial, President and Chief Executive Officer of National Urban League, said: “Barriers to political participation still exist, and any challenge to the Voting Rights Act would fundamentally disarm those fighting against inequality. I strongly commend Attorney General Schneiderman, as well as Mississippi and California, for their commitment to upholding the Voting Rights Act.”

Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel for Latino Justice PRLDEF, said: “It is critically important for responsible elected officials from covered jurisdictions to support the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  By filing this amicus brief Attorney General Schneiderman and his colleagues are telling the country that Section 5 protects the rights of Latino voters while simultaneously allowing covered jurisdictions to gain the imprimatur of preclearance in an expedient, inexpensive manner.  Given New York’s history of Section 5 coverage we applaud the Attorney General in supporting our efforts to ensure that the most fundamental part of our political system is free from abuse and prejudice.”

Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, said:  “Every eligible voter in New York, regardless of race, has the right to have his or her vote count. Unfortunately, our country has a long history and ongoing problem of racial discrimination and racially polarized voting. Section 5 is an important part of ensuring equal access to voting is protected, and Attorney General Schneiderman and his colleagues are right to defend it.”

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting the voting rights of all New Yorkers. If you believe that you have experienced voting discrimination, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, or visit

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