A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Justice Department may continue to monitor elections for racial discrimination in the south, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled against Shelby County, Ala. officials, who had sued the federal government to stop the election monitoring that occurs across the south. The county said it should not need approval before changing minor procedures such as moving a polling place.
Bates said the section of the Voting Rights Law that allows the monitoring relies on patterns of past discrimination to determine which areas should be subject to monitoring. He said that judging the constitutionality of a law that deals with voting discrimination was a particularly sensitive responsibility, the AP reported. He said that after reviewing 15,000 pages of records supporting Congress’ 2006 renewal of the law he believes that Congress was justified in finding that discrimination still existed in areas.
“Despite the effectiveness of Section 5 in deterring unconstitutional voting discrimination since 1965, Congress in 2006 found that voting discrimination by covered jurisdictions had continued into the 21st century, and that the protections of Section 5 were still needed to safeguard racial and language minority voters,” Bates wrote.
The Justice Department and several civil rights groups had argued that discrimination is most likely to occur in areas with the most troubled racial pasts.
However, Shelby County officials had argued that discrimination takes place in areas that are not subject to monitoring, that the law’s formula does not correspond to current conditions and that the law is unconstitutional.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.,) was pleased with the ruling. “Judge Bates’ careful and thorough opinion reflects an appropriate deference to the extensive testimony received over the course of nearly 20 hearings before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees,” he said, in a statement. “The continuing importance of these Voting Rights Act protections cannot be overstated, particularly at a time when many states are passing legislation to make it more difficult for hard working Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
If the ruling is appealed, it likely will place another Voting Rights Act case before the Supreme Court.
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