Friday, December 9


So who's surprised that staff attorneys in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division are being marginalized by political appointees? What else would you expect of the Bush administration?

Many congressional Democrats have sharply criticized the Civil Rights Division's performance, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said this week that he is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a statement yesterday: "America deserves better than a Civil Rights Division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves." [Emphasis mine]

This is a critical sitution, since under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act all or parts of 16 states (including Texas) are required to submit any redistricting plans or changes in their voting laws to the U.S. Department of Justice (or a federal court in D.C.) for approval before those plans can become law. Texas did just that in 2003, and WaPo reported last week that the unanimous opinion of lawyers in the DOJ voting section was that the redistricting plan was illegal. That opinion of the career lawyers was buried and overruled by Principal Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights Sheldon Bradshaw, a Bush appointee, and the DeLay plan was approved. If other red states, like Texas and Georgia, propose discriminatory voting laws or redistricting plans, the public will have no reassurance that the same thing won't happen again.

Here's more about Section 5, which expires in mid-2007.

It affects all or part of 16 states: all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas; and most of Virginia, 4 counties in California, 5 counties in Florida, 2 townships in Michigan, 10 towns in New Hampshire, 3 counties in New York, 40 counties in North Carolina, and two counties in South Dakota. A formula designed by Congress applies Section 5 to any state or county where a literacy test was used as of November 1, 1964, and where a participation rate of under 50 percent by eligible voters in the 1964 presidential election showed the test had a racially discriminatory basis. Later amendments to the Act included the years 1968 and 1972 in the coverage formula.
A covered jurisdiction that wants to change laws and practices affecting voting is required to submit the change along with a letter explaining the change to the Department of Justice. The jurisdiction must demonstrate that the change does "not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color [or membership in a language minority group]." Citizens may submit comments to the Department of Justice on how the proposed change will affect their community. Within 60 days, the department responds either by approving or "pre-clearing" the change or by objecting to it. An objection bars the jurisdiction from implementing the proposed change. If an objection is issued and a jurisdiction wishes to appeal, the jurisdiction may seek pre-clearance through the D.C. District Court. The jurisdiction may alternatively pre-clear its changes through a lawsuit in the D.C. District Court.


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