Obama Justice; Race, Judges and Future Elections

Article excerpt


The 2010 midterm elections and the resulting battles over redistricting will shape the future of both political parties. A case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is being offered to the Supreme Court, highlighting these political stakes. And President-elect Barack Obama's Justice Department is about to take center stage in this fight.

The Constitution requires legislative districts be redrawn after each decennial national census. The 2010 midterm elections will determine the makeup of all 50 state legislatures. With few exceptions, these legislatures will then draw new lines of all congressional districts, as well as many state legislative districts, for the 2012 election and beyond.

A major factor in this redistricting is the Voting Rights Act. A number of VRA's provisions apply nationwide, originally designed to protect the right of African Americans to vote. But another provision of the law has been challenged in a case that has now been offered to the U.S. Supreme Court. Section Five of the VRA requires certain jurisdictions with a history of egregious racism to go through a special process before they can make any changes affecting voting.

Under Section Five, these jurisdictions must get pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department before they can redistrict or make any other changes to their election laws or procedures, or get a three-judge panel of the federal district court in D.C. to sign off on the jurisdiction's plan. The law requires the Justice Department or the federal court to determine whether the changes would have either the purpose or the effect of abridging the right to vote.

But as racial barriers to voting have fallen in America, and the African American vote has become increasingly reliable as a voting bloc for Democrats, VRA lawsuits have increasingly been used to advantage the Democrats in partisan wrangling against Republicans.

The VRA was originally passed in 1965. This was the height of the civil rights movement, when powerful forces were arrayed to prevent black voters from casting ballots, and where a number of states saw widespread voter intimidation. …