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NAMUDNO v. Holder

NAMUDNO v. Holder involves a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act, perhaps the country’s single most successful piece of civil rights legislation.

Published: June 22, 2009

On June 22, 2009, an eight-member major­ity of the Supreme Court avoided a consti­tu­tional chal­lenge to the Voting Rights Act, perhaps the coun­try’s single most success­ful piece of civil rights legis­la­tion, in its decision in NAMUDNO v. Holder today.  The Court did not take up the argu­ment brought by a small util­ity district in Austin, Texas that Congress did not have the power to enact Section 5, a key provi­sion of the Act, and instead held that the district could apply for an exemp­tion to that provi­sion.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain desig­nated states and local govern­ments to “preclear” any proposed changes to their voting systems with the Depart­ment of Justice before the changes go into effect. The purpose of the preclear­ance process is to make sure that the changes in elec­tion prac­tices do not have a detri­mental effect on the voting rights of racial, ethnic, or language minor­it­ies. The preclear­ance require­ment has been one of the most success­ful provi­sions of the Voting Rights Act, deter­ring and prevent­ing many voting changes that would have harmed minor­ity elect­oral parti­cip­a­tion and repres­ent­a­tion.

The Court concluded that the North­w­est Austin Muni­cipal Util­ity District No. 1 (“NAMUDNO”), a small polit­ical subunit formed in the late 1980s at the north­ern edge of Travis County to provide specified util­it­ies to the largely wealthy and white resid­ents of the area, had the abil­ity to seek a stat­utory exemp­tion from the pre-clear­ance require­ments of the Act.  The Court’s decision preserved all aspects of the Voting Rights Act, but over­ruled the lower court’s decision that NAMUDNO was ineligible for this exemp­tion.

On March 25, 2009, Bren­nan Center for Justice filed an amicus brief in support of the Act in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the history of the 15th 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 Court giving special defer­ence to Congress’s judg­ments in exer­cising that author­ity.

On May 15, 2007, Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief in support of defend­ant and defend­ant-inter­ven­ors’ motion for summary judg­ment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seek­ing to defend the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Voting Rights Act. The Center’s brief argued that Congress’s decision to reau­thor­ize Section 5 should be afforded great defer­ence from the courts because it comes under Congress’s broad power to enforce the 15th Amend­ment. Congress is entitled to a great deal of latit­ude when acting pursu­ant to its 15th Amend­ment enforce­ment powers to protect a funda­mental right and prevent an injury based on account of race.

Selec­ted docu­ments can be found below. All legal docu­ments related to case may be found here.

District Court Papers

Supreme Court Papers

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