The Voting Rights Act and the Court

The case out of Shelby County, AL proves clearly that Section 5 is still needed. A surreal situation.

If the question here is whether the old, bad habits still persist enough to justify the continuation of Section 5 of the VRA, we need look no farther than the very Alabama County that's named in the suit. Calera, the seat of Shelby County, has a black population of about 10 percent. It has a seven-member city council. So one of those being an African-American ever so slightly overrepresents the black population, but it's the closest the city could come to fair and equal representation.

There was a black council member, Ernest Montgomery. He represented a district that was abour 70 percent black. In fact there had been one black seat for 20 years. Then they redrew the lines in 2008. They somehow or another redrew the district so that it was 30 percent black.

Here's the story, from Lou DuBose of The Washington Spectator:

New electoral maps, created by consultants from the Greater Birmingham Regional Planning Commission, added several predominately white subdivisions to Calera’s black city council district.

“I told them that we didn’t like the way it was drawn,” Montgomery said. “But we were told by these professionals that there was no other way to meet the criteria that was required by law.”

Montgomery, a soft-spoken engineer who grew up in Calera, accepted the explanation of the consultants. He also believed that the Justice Department would backstop Calera’s black community, so he reluctantly signed off a plan that reduced the African-American population in his district from 69 percent to 28 or 29 percent.

“Then we voted to send it to Washington for preclearance,” he said.

In August of 2008, Montgomery was defeated by a white opponent. This is where the Calera story takes a strange turn.

Montgomery never knew until after the election that the Justice Department had refused to preclear his newly redrawn district.

“I always point this out in interviews,” Montgomery said. “I did not know. That changed everything right there. I would have thought that with the denial by the DOJ we would have at least been told, especially myself because this is my district. That I would have been told by the attorneys or the mayor. And I wasn’t.”

The Justice Department made Calera draw new lines that it did pre-clear. And Montgomery won.

So in other words, here we have a case where Justice Department oversight ensured an outcome that was fair to the black population. And then the town changed his district and did not report the new district to DoJ. The black incumbent--who wasn't told any of this!--lost. Then matters were corrected and the black incumbent won. Could there be a more obvious test case that makes clear that if the DoJ isn't involved looking over these districts' shoulders, reversals of this sort can still happen, and districts can mysteriously go from 69 percent African American to 29 percent? How in the world this becomes a test case for the other side just boggles the mind.

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But it is, and it is going to be used to overturn Section 5. Surreal. Now I would not say, Section 5 forever. Probably another generation, maybe two. But obviously this kind of thing still goes on. Also worth remembering that Congress reauthorized the VRA, Sec 5 included, in 2006 by votes of 390-33 and 98-0. Yes, zero.

What a disgrace that majority is. John Roberts pointing out that Massachusetts has lower voter participation rates than Mississippi. So what? That's a red herring. Massachusetts has a black governor. I'd like to know what year Roberts thinks Mississippi is going to elect a black governor. And Scalia. I hardly even have words for him. He's just a bigot. "Racial entitlement" is how bigots talk these days.