Horne: Federal preclearance of redistricting ‘archaic’ unconstitutional
Updated Aug 25, 2011, 2:45 pm
Arizona is suing the federal government, again. State Attorney General Tom Horne filed a suit Wednesday, seeking to toss federal review of redistricting and changes to voting laws under the Voting Rights Act.
“The portions of the Voting Rights Act requiring preclearance of all voting changes are either archaic, not based in fact, or subject to completely subjective enforcement based on the whim of federal authorities,” Horne said in a morning press release.
The federal government will defend the law, and continue to enforce the preclearance requirements as Arizona redraws its congressional districts, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an afternoon statement.
Arizona must seek approval from the federal Department of Justice for changes to voting procedures, including the ongoing congressional redistricting process.
“Arizona has been subjected to enforcement actions for problems that were either corrected nearly 40 years ago and have not been repeated, or penalized for alleged violations that have no basis in the Constitution. That needs to stop,” the Republican AG said.
“The Voting Rights Act plays a vital role in our society by ensuring that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” Holder said.
“The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this case, as it has done successfully in the past. The provisions challenged in this case, including the preclearance requirement, were reauthorized by Congress in 2006 with overwhelming and bipartisan support. The Justice Department will continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act, including each of the provisions challenged today,” he said.
In 1975, the then-decade-old Voting Rights Act was amended to require federal review of voting changes in states with records of discrimination against language-minority voters, including Arizona.
- The 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is facially unconstitutional. It exceeds Congress’s authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments because it suspends all changes to state election law – however innocuous – until preclearance is given by the federal government. There is no rational relationship to the powers given to the federal government in the constitution.
- The formula for determining which states should be covered jurisdictions, found in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, is unconstitutional. It places enforcement burdens on Arizona for problems that have been corrected for decades. For example, Arizona is still penalized for archaic violations that were corrected with the implementation of bi-lingual ballots prior to the 1974 elections.
- The Voting Rights Act is facially unconstitutional because it treats states within the union differently without a rational justification. For example, the “language minority” coverage formula unconstitutionally differentiates between states by applying three different standards for “Spanish heritage” to three different groups of states.
- In the alternative, the provisions are unconstitutional as applied to Arizona.
“The entire classification system is flawed, arbitrary, and irrational,” Horne said.
The suit will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The preclearance provisions of the law were the subject of debate when the act was reauthorized in 2006. Despite the objections of conservative congressmen, the act was extended for 25 years.
States were preclearance is required are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
Other covered jurisdictions include counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota, and some townships in Michigan and New Hampshire.