Attorney General's Office Flooded With Voting Rights Inquiries

AP | 1/27/2012, 11:18 a.m.

A pending Section 5 review involves Texas, where the Justice Department has raised questions over a new photo ID requirement. The state reacted by taking its case for the new law to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., where lawyers from the Justice Department and the state will square off. The Justice Department's civil rights division also is immersed in a court battle with Texas over allegedly discriminatory boundaries drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The challenges to Section 5`s constitutionality followed a 2009 Supreme Court opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts which seemed to raise doubts about whether the provision was still needed.

Section 5 "imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs," Roberts wrote. "Today, the registration gap between white and black voters is in single digits" in the states covered by the act's preclearance provision and "in some of those states, blacks now register and vote at higher rates than whites."

The stakes would be enormous if the Supreme Court got involved.

In 2006, Congress held hearings and created a 15,000-page record to justify renewing Section 5. Congress found that the Justice Department protected the interests of some 663,503 minority voters from 2000 to May 2006 by refusing to approve changes in political boundaries drawn by states, counties and local units of government. The Justice Department filed over 700 objections to proposed voting changes from 1982 to 2006 in states and counties covered by Section 5. From 1982 to 2003, states and local entities withdrew more than 200 proposed voting changes when the Justice Department started asking questions about them.