Today, Members on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.), Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), and Rep. Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), filed a brief as amici curiae in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Shelby County v. Holder to defend the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits jurisdictions with a history of discrimination from making changes in their voting procedures without first demonstrating to either the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia that the change will not deny a person the right to vote based on their race. In their amicus brief, the Judiciary Committee Members, who served as the bipartisan leadership at the time of the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, defended Congress’s responsibility under the Constitution to remove any impediments to the ballot box and to protect the integrity of the election process. Following the filing of the amicus brief, the Representatives involved released this statement:
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.: “The Voting Rights Act is the crown jewel of civil rights laws. It protects our most fundamental right—the right to vote. This law has empowered minorities to participate in the election process, but the threat of discrimination is not yet extinct. In 2006, the House compiled 12,000 pages of extensive testimony. This record shows Section 5 not only worked to correct past injustices, but is unmistakably central to the continued protection of minorities’ right to vote in covered districts. I am proud of this law, and join my colleagues in ardently defending its constitutionality.”
Rep. John Conyers, Jr.: “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and the foundation on which all of our other rights rest. As we have seen in litigation over the past year, Section 5 remains critical to enforcing the constitutional rights of all voters, especially for voters in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. We affirm our obligation to the Constitution to defend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the basis of Congress’s authority to enforce equal access to voting for every citizen. We urge the Supreme Court to consider the arguments presented in our amicus brief, and to uphold Section 5 Voting Rights Act in its entirety.
“It is notable that we are filing this amicus brief just days before the 143rd anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment grants Congress the express power to prevent, through appropriate legislation, the denial of the right to vote based on a citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Congress will continue to protect citizens from discrimination in the elections process by guaranteeing equal protection under the law for all voters.”
Rep. Steven Chabot: “The Constitution expressly grants broad authority to Congress to both regulate the time, manner and place of elections and to enact legislation to ensure that no citizen's right to vote is unlawfully denied. As such, Congress was acting at the height of its constitutional powers both when it enacted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and when it reauthorized those provisions in 2006. During the reauthorization process, the House Judiciary Committee conducted 12 hearings, received testimony from 46 witnesses and compiled an extensive record to support its conclusion that Section 5 should be reauthorized. Consequently, I urge the Supreme Court to defer to the judgment of Congress and uphold this important provision in its entirety.”
Rep. Jerrold L. Nadler: “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has proved a critical tool in protecting minority voters from efforts to disenfranchise them. As we documented when we reauthorized it in 2006, these practices continue, and stopping them before they can take effect under the preclearance provisions of section 5, is the only way to ensure that voting rights can be protected. Our brief provides the Supreme Court with the legal basis for the bipartisan judgment of the overwhelming majority of the Congress that the Voting Rights Act remains necessary to protect our most fundamental democratic right. I believe that, when the Court reviews that record, it will have no choice but to uphold the Voting Rights Act as it has consistently for nearly half a century.”
Rep. Melvin L. Watt: “In 2006, Congress assembled an unprecedented record of evidence to determine whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts continued to protect minority voters and was sufficiently targeted in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. That record establishes that voting discrimination is an enduring problem and that Section 5 remains necessary to safeguard the voting franchise for all Americans. I trust that the Court will recognize, as we did, that Section 5 remains a vital and legitimate component of the voting rights act.”
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott: "Invalidating Section 5 will essentially allow states and localities, who have a recorded history of discrimination, to implement any voter schemes and benefit from those schemes until the victims of discrimination raise the money for a lawsuit to overturn the scheme. Victims who are unable to afford expensive litigation will not have their rights protected," said Rep. Bobby Scott. "Those states and areas that are covered by Section 5 were not chosen randomly, they were selected the old fashion way - they earned it. It is my hope that the Court will uphold Section 5."
The amicus brief can be found online here.