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Naomi Tacuyan Underwood / 202-223-9170
APIAVOTE Statement on Supreme Court Decision To Leave Voting Rights Act and Key Anti-Discriminatory Provision Intact
WASHINGTON, D.C.-The United States Supreme Court on Monday handed down a decision that preserves the Voting Rights Act, effectively avoiding the constitutionality question of Section 5, a key provision which requires certain states and jurisdictions to apply to a federal agency or court for changes to their voting processes, and expanding the ability of political subdivisions to seek "bailout" from Section 5's preclearance requirements.
Monday's decision is not necessarily a decisive victory, as the justices almost unanimously united (8-1) to avoid the question of Section 5's constitutionality. Chief Justice John Roberts stated in his opinion that the ruling did not definitively give an answer to whether Section 5 is relevant today. The Court's lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, asserted the unconstitutionality of Section 5, stating that the "violence, intimidation and subterfuge" that caused the passage of Section 5 no longer exists.
The decision was handed down via a limited ruling in the case filed by the Northwest Austin Municipality District in Texas, in which they challenged the constitutionality of Section 5's "preclearance" requirement, and argued that small districts such as theirs should be exempt from the requirement, since smaller districts do not fall under the definition of "political subdivision" that could be exempt from the preclearance requirement as stated by the Act.
The Voting Rights Act continues to play a key role in protecting voting right for all Americans. Many see the VRA as outdated and antiquated, but in Asian American Pacific Islander and minority communities, barriers to voting and discrimination at the polls still occur.
Texas is one of the states fully covered by Section 5 (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are also fully covered), and is still a state at which AAPIs experience voting obstacles and discrimination, according to the Asian American Justice Center.
Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a national non-partisan, nonprofit organization that encourages and promotes civic participation of Asian Pacific Islander Americans in the electoral and public policy processes at the national, state and local levels. For more information, please visit www.apiavote.org.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND FOR PARTNERS:
Background: Helping Uphold the Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court
This past March, APIAVote signed on to two amici curiae ("friend of the court") briefs filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), urging the Supreme Court to uphold the ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. Both briefs address Section 5 of the VRA in particular, as Section 5 requires jurisdictions with atrocious histories of voting discrimination to get federal approval of new voting practices or procedures. This approval or "preclearance" must be in place in order to ensure that the proposed changes will not make it more difficult for racial and ethnic minorities to vote.
AALDEF's brief cites examples of how Section 5 has protected Asian American voters with regard to school board elections, poll site changes, and compliance with Section 203, the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The brief details how Section 5 was used to ensure fully-translated ballots and language assistance at more polling places in growing Asian American neighborhoods. In contrast, and as a signal of the work that still needs to be done, AAJC'S brief underscores the disparities still faced by Asian American populations in Section 5-covered jurisdictions with respect to voter registration and turnout, electoral representation and racial discrimination in voting.