MALDEF Celebrates Supreme Court Victory in Voting Rights Act Case

Ruling upholds Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and permits district to apply for release from preclearance requirement as provided by the Act

June 22, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a resounding decision that preserves the federal Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court today rejected a constitutional attack launched by a small Texas municipal utility district, directing instead that the district can apply to be released from the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act on the same basis as larger political subdivisions.

In this case, MALDEF represented Latino voters who live in the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 (MUD) and who intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was under attack in this case, requires political subdivisions to “preclear,” i.e. receive federal permission to enact, any changes in their voting systems. Section 5 is not nationwide, but instead covers jurisdictions in areas with a history of serious voting discrimination. Section 5 includes a “bailout” provision which allows jurisdictions that have complied with the Voting Rights Act to be released from the preclearance requirement. The district court in this case ruled that the MUD was too small a jurisdiction to apply for bailout. The Supreme Court reversed this decision, deciding that the MUD may apply for bailout on the same basis and under the same criteria as larger jurisdictions such as states and counties.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today recognized that our country has made great progress toward equal voting rights—precisely because of the Voting Rights Act,” stated Henry Solano, MALDEF Interim President and General Counsel. “We are pleased that the Court rendered a limited ruling that does not change the substantive protections of the Voting Rights Act,” continued Solano.

“After today’s decision, the Voting Rights Act will continue to protect minority voters in the same way that it has since 1965,” explained Nina Perales, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel and lead counsel for Latino MUD residents in the case. “Small political jurisdictions that want to be released from the Act’s preclearance requirement can apply, just like larger jurisdictions, to be released from coverage and if they have complied with the Act they will be released,” continued Perales.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund