Posted on June 22, 2009Shortly after 10 am this morning, you could hear sighs of relief around the country. The Supreme Court announced its NAMUDNO decision regarding section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Recognizing that the "historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable", a strong majority upheld section 5 of the VRA, and thus allowed Congress to continue to act to protect minority voters from discrimination. The 8-1 decision (with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, finding section 5 unconstitutional) upheld the Act but allowed for the appellant, Utility District, to bailout of the preclearance requirement set forth in section 5 which requires approval by the Department of Justice before enacting new voting laws.
The court opted not to rule on the constitutionality of the VRA but expanded the requirement for those able to exempt themselves from the preclearance to all political subdivisions of the state and not just those set out in section 14 of the VRA. However, any state-run institution that wishes to opt out must show that they have not acted in discriminatory ways for a 10-year period, and meet certain other requirements. The court has left the door open for a future challenge to the VRA on constitutional grounds, but with its nearly unanimous decision today strongly recognized the importance of the Act in protecting voter rights.
(Rob Richie helped with this analysis. Note that FairVote also is co-sponsoring a conference about the future of voting rights on June 30th.
For more information and analysis on the NAMUDNO decision, see the following links.