Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Is Invaluable to Our Democracy

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On February 27 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Shelby County v. Holder, a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark law outlawed discriminatory voting practices by ending the disfranchisement of minority voters and preventing vote dilution through racial gerrymandering and other techniques that negate the minority vote when the white majority votes as a block.

Section 5 furthers these goals by requiring nine full states and parts of seven other states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to ask either the Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C., for approval before making any changes to voting laws—a process known as preclearance. Congress determined the jurisdictions originally covered under Section 5 by using a plan laid out in the Voting Rights Act and also created a scheme for states to “bail out” of coverage if they have complied with the Voting Rights Act for 10 years.

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