A.G. Schneiderman Responds To U.S. Supreme Court Decision On The Voting Rights Act

A.G. Schneiderman Led Multi-State Coalition Defending Voting Rights Act Against Constitutional Challenge

New York, California, Mississippi And North Carolina Argued Law Provides Important Protections For Minority Voters

Schneiderman: The Voting Rights Act Remains A Critical Bulwark For Our Democracy; Congress Must Act To Implement New Coverage Provisions

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the coverage provision, while preserving Section 5, the preclearance provision. The Supreme Court’s decision puts the responsibility on Congress to rewrite the coverage provision. In a friend-of-the-court brief, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led a four-state coalition to argue that the Court should uphold the entire law given the important role that the Voting Rights Act plays in blocking and deterring voting discrimination. The brief was filed jointly with California, Mississippi and North Carolina in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 is deeply disappointing, and Congress must act immediately to develop a new coverage provision that will ensure equal access to the political process for every American,”Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While the Supreme Court has preserved the preclearance process of Section 5, it is now the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the Voting Rights Act continues to play its vital role in strengthening our democracy and combating and deterring voting discrimination.”

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aptly observed in dissent: "Beyond question, the VRA is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment. For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made."

The case concerned a constitutional challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama taking aim at the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, and the Section 4 coverage provisions that spell out the jurisdictions that are subject to Section 5. The preclearance provision required certain jurisdictions, including several covered counties in New York, to submit new voting changes for federal review to ensure that they were not adopted with a discriminatory purpose, and will not negatively impact minority voter participation.

In recent years, there has been significant evidence of the continuing need for Section 5's protections with states across the country taking steps to implement restrictive and burdensome barriers to the franchise including mandatory photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements, among other things.

Shelby County argued that Section 5 is no longer required and claimed that Congress exceeded its powers when it reauthorized the law in 2006. Shelby County also argued 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, North Carolina and California, provided a stark contrast to Shelby County’s contentions, asserting that Section 5 is an appropriate exercise of Congressional power and a carefully tailored tool that applies in those parts of the country where the law's protections remain most necessary. In addition, the brief presented the important practical perspective and experience of the covered jurisdictions subject to Section 5 and noted that compliance with the law has historically and continues to pose little burden or cost on the states.

According to the brief, “The Section 5 preclearance process has helped bring about tremendous progress in the covered jurisdictions and continues to be a vital mechanism to assist Amici States in working to achieve the equality in opportunities for political participation that is a foundational principle of our democracy.”

In 2006, Congress conducted extensive hearings to determine whether the law's requirements remained necessary, compiled a record of ongoing discrimination throughout the covered jurisdictions and voted overwhelmingly by a margin of 98-0 in the Senate to renew the law. The preclearance provision has applied to Kings, Bronx and New York Counties and has provided important protections for minority voters in New York State. The law has also applied to the State of Mississippi, and parts of both North Carolina and California, among other states.

The case was handled by Special Counsel to the Solicitor General Steven Wu, Deputy Solicitor General Cecelia Chang and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.

A copy of the states’ brief is available online here.