For Immediate Release
Contact: Jonathan Rosen, BerlinRosen Public Affairs (646) 452–5637 or (917) 803–6176
New York – Today a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia upheld a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that prevents states and local governments from enacting voting practices that discriminate based on race. In an amicus brief filed a year ago, the Brennan Center defended the Act against a challenge claiming that Congress did not have the power to enact it. The Brennan Center brief focused on Congressional power pursuant to the Fifteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and was cited by the Court. The case at issue is Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (“NAMUDNO”) v. Mukasey.
“Today the Court upheld a provision of the Voting Rights Act that, throughout recent history, 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.
“Since its passage in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation in our nation’s history. This decision means that the Voting Rights Act and Congress will continue to have the power to protect the franchise against discriminatory election practices,” continued Pérez.
The Brennan Center’s brief argued that the concerns animating the Rehnquist Court’s decisions limiting Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment do not apply when Congress legislates to prevent race discrimination in the franchise. The brief also marshaled legislative and early judicial history to show that under the original understanding of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress was understood to have broad enforcement powers to protect the right to vote.
“In upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, the court recognized that the Fifteenth Amendment provides an independent source of congressional power to protect voting rights, which remains ‘untouched’ by recent Supreme Court decisions that have restricted Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. The panel’s decision 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.
“In the past decade, the Rehnquist Court 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, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The three-judge court today drew the line when it came to the Voting Rights Act. Since Reconstruction, the Court has recognized Congress’s authority to prevent and remedy racial discrimination in voting. We are pleased that the Court reaffirmed that authority,” said Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.
The brief is available on line by clicking here.
Note: Pérez and Weiser are available to discuss the case, the Voting Rights Act and threats to the franchise faced by voters of color across the country.