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NAMUDNO | Center Urges Supreme Court to Uphold a Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act

Brief filed in NAMUDNO. Provision essential to preserving voting rights of minorities.

March 26, 2009

For Immediate Release:


Contact: Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318
Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212–998–6289


Provision Essential to Preserving Voting Rights of Minorities

New York – Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed an amicus curiae brief (click here to download) in the Supreme Court supporting the United States and civil rights organizations in their defense of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The provision at issue prevents states and local governments from enacting voting practices that discriminate based on race.

The case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (“NAMUDNO”) v. Holder, involves a challenge to Section 5 of the Act, which requires certain designated states and local governments to “pre-clear” any proposed changes to their voting systems with the Department of Justice before the changes go into effect.

“Throughout recent history, the pre-clearance provision has been essential in preserving the voting rights of minorities and deterring states and local government from taking actions to disenfranchise people of color,” said Myrna Pérez, counsel for the Brennan Center.

In May 2008, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Federal District Court upheld the constitutionality of Section 5 against a challenge by a small utility district in Austin, TX, NAMUDNO, seeking to avoid its obligations under the law. NAMUDNO claimed that Congress did not have the power to enact Section 5. The Brennan Center also filed an amicus brief when the case was before the district court, arguing that Congressional power to enact the Voting Rights Act was justified pursuant to the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The district court cited with approval the Brennan Center’s argument that Supreme Court has been far more deferential to Congress when its Fifteenth Amendment powers are being utilized.

NAMUDNO appealed the decision of the district court, and now the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. In its Supreme Court amicus curiae brief, the Brennan Center demonstrates that the history of the Fifteenth Amendment confirms that its framers intended to give Congress broad authority to protect the fundamental right to vote from racial discrimination and fully justifies the giving of special deference to Congress’s judgments in exercising that authority.

“The history of the Amendment makes clear that the Fifteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth, provides a powerful tool for Congress to protect against racial discrimination in voting,” said Joshua Block, pro-bono counsel to the Brennan Center and an attorney at Jenner & Block.

“Over the past 15 years, the courts have cut back on Congress’s powers to protect civil and individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, striking down all or portions of key federal laws. The three-judge court drew the line when it came to the Voting Rights Act. Since Reconstruction, the Court has recognized Congress’s broad authority to prevent and remedy racial discrimination in voting. We hope that the Supreme Court will reaffirm that authority,” said Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.

For more information or to set up an interview with Myrna Pérez or Wendy Weiser, please contact Susan Lehman at 212–998–6318 or or Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289.

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