“It goes without saying that racism persists,” wrote Williams. “But without more evidence distinguishing current conditions in the covered jurisdictions from those in the uncovered ones,” the law's “coverage formula appears to be as obsolete in practice as one would expect” for evidence that is several decades old.
Addressing Williams's point, Tatel said the question is not whether old data is being used, but whether it helps identify the jurisdictions with the worst discrimination problems.
“If it does, then even though the formula rests on decades-old factors, the statute is rational,” said Tatel.
Tatel said Congress dealt with the issue of old information by adding a “bailout” provision to the law allowing jurisdictions with clean discrimination records to seek an end to their preclearance obligations under Section 5.
Section 5 currently applies to the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, as well as some local jurisdictions in Michigan and New Hampshire.
Tatel, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, was joined in his ruling by Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Williams is an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.
The 2-1 decision came in a constitutional challenge by Shelby County, Ala., to federal election monitoring, which is designed to prevent racial discrimination. The appeals court was upholding a ruling eight months ago by U.S. District Judge John Bates.
The Voting Rights Act ``is a cornerstone of civil rights law, and the department will continue to vigorously defend it against constitutional challenges,'' said Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa.
Friday's ruling ``is the latest in an unbroken line of cases upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act's most effective protection,'' said Debo P. Adegbile, interim president and director-counsel of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The fund intervened in the case to defend Section 5 on behalf of several African American community leaders and voters in Shelby County.
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