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Section 5: Unnecessary and unconstitutional

By Victoria NeelyColumnist

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder over the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires that jurisdictions in nine, mostly southern, states, and areas of seven other states with a history of racial discrimination in their voting procedures, must gain approval from the federal government if they wish to implement any changes to their election laws. While this law was created to stifle discriminatory voting practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes during a time of harsh racism, we now live in a time where minorities make up a significant portion of the voting population and a majority of some City Councils, County Commissions and other local public offices. The South is most certainly not the same today as it was in the 1960s, and laws like Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Requiring the federal government to monitor voting practices of some counties and not of others is unfairly discriminatory in itself. Places like Shelby County seek to invalidate this key portion of the Voting Rights Act because it no longer applies to the situation in today’s voting.

Arguments against ruling Section 5 unconstitutional claim that there are still questionable voting practices that exist in the South, including redistricting plans in Calera, Alabama in Shelby County. This district was 71 percent African-American, but after redrawing the district in 2006, it only had a mere 23 percent of African-Americans. This change contributed to the defeat of Ernest Montgomery in 2008, the only black member of Calera’s five-member city council. After the Justice Department ruled the election invalid because the redistricting plans had not been pre-cleared, Shelby County went to court to overturn the decision.

The truth is, a lot has changed in the past 48 years. There will always be the arguments that racism exists and that redistricting efforts are part of a scheme to disenfranchise minority voters, but this controversial piece of legislation is simply not necessary in today’s age.

The issue of voter discrimination is not relevant enough to justify upholding Section 5, which gives less sovereignty to areas that have a past of voter discrimination practices but may not necessarily have that problem anymore. Places like Shelby County realize that they have less power to operate without the intrusion of the federal government than any other county that is not required to undergo pre-clearance. While it is certainly debatable whether the South is “cured” of racist voting practices, there are other ways to tackle that problem, rather than an almost five-decade-old statute that applies an old solution to a current problem.

It is time for a contemporary approach to problems such as these that do not “pick on” areas with a history of discrimination. To prevent actions like redistricting, which lowers a minority’s pull in an area, Section 5 can be replaced by other laws that make more sense for the 21st century and are much more effective. This country was plagued by racism fifty years ago, so like it or not, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act simply does not apply anymore.

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