The Lawyers’ Committee Moves to Intervene in Shelby County v. Holder in Defense of Critical Voting Rights Act Protection

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On July 1, 2010, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dewey and LeBoeuf LLP filed a Motion to Intervene in Shelby County v. Holder on behalf of Mr. Bobby Lee Harris, a former City Councilman for Alabaster, Alabama, a municipality of Shelby County. (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 1:10-CV-651)

On July 1, 2010, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dewey and LeBoeuf LLP filed a Motion to Intervene in Shelby County v. Holder on behalf of Mr. Bobby Lee Harris, a former City Councilman for Alabaster, Alabama, a municipality of Shelby County. (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 1:10-CV-651) With this lawsuit, Shelby County seeks to invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on the alleged ground that Congress acted unconstitutionally when it most recently reauthorized Section 5 in 2006 for 25 years.

Section 5 requires certain jurisdictions in all or parts of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination, like Shelby County, to demonstrate to the federal government that any change it makes to its voting process is nondiscriminatory before the change can be made.

“Section 5 has played a critical role in combating efforts to deny minority voters their rights to equal participation in the electoral process,” stated Jon Greenbaum, legal director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The evidence before Congress about the continued need for Section 5 was overwhelming and we intend to provide this evidence, and additional evidence specific to Alabama, to the court.”

Mr. Harris’s own experience exemplifies the need for Section 5. Mr. Harris, who is African-American, was a City Councilman from Ward 1 of Alabaster, Alabama from 1992-2004. In 2000, despite the Department of Justice’s objections to its redistricting plan, Shelby County incorporated a new, predominantly white development into the historically African-American Ward. During the 2000 elections, the County allowed the residents of the recently added area to vote in their new jurisdiction. Due to the Department of Justice’s earlier denial of pre-clearance, Shelby County later decided not to count their votes in the City Council race. Mr. Harris would have lost if the votes from the predominately white development had counted.

“My own experiences have shown that the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act are needed to protect the rights of African-Americans in Shelby County and elsewhere,” said Mr. Harris. Without it, minority voters will be vulnerable to discriminatory efforts to weaken minority voter participation.”

“The Voting Rights Act is one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress,” said John Nonna, a partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf. “Section 5's preclearance requirement has alleviated discriminatory voting practices not only in Shelby County, but throughout the country.”

To read the Lawyers' Committee's Motion to Intervene, please click here.

To read the Lawyers' Committee's Memorandum in Support of our Motion to Intervene as a Defendant, please click here.

To read the DOJ’s Objection Letter to Shelby County dated August 16, 2000, please click here: http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_5/pdfs/l_081600.pdf

To learn more about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, please click here:
http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_5/about.php or http://www.lawyerscommittee.org/projects/voting_rights/page?id=0005

About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice. For more information about the LCCRUL, visit http://www.lawyerscommittee.org.

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Stacie Royster
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