Voting Rights Act in Jeopardy

http://media.wnct.com/wnct/gfx.php?max_width=300&imgfile=images/uploads/Supreme_Court_Building.jpgRick Hasen, who runs what is probably the nation’s most respected elections law blog and listserv, has this piece in Slate about the unfortunate (and likely) outcome of the NAMUDNO case.

On April 29, the last day of the court’s term, the justices will hear a case from an obscure utility district in Texas, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder. (The shorthand is NAMUDNO. The court will release audio of oral argument right after argument concludes.)

At stake is not only the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act but, potentially, the constitutionality of a host of other civil rights laws. These include the requirement for the creation of majority-minority districts in cities and states with large minority populations and the guarantee of language assistance to non-English-speaking voters in jurisdictions with a fair number of them. The NAMUDNO ruling will come just before the next round of redistricting and could have a major effect on who wins in all kinds of races, from obscure utility districts to state houses to Congress.

FairVote and I argue for proportional representation rather than gerrymandering as the preferred method of ensuring minority representation.  But so long as PR isn’t in widespread use, the current district-drawing method is imperative — and Section 5 of the VRA covers so much more than that.

And, of course, it was used quite prominently and effectively in Rhode Island a few years back, when redistricting packed the largest concentrations of the state’s Latino and African American residents into a single state senate district, pitting the communities against each other in the fight for due representation.

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