Will Obama's Presidency Impact Key Voting Rights Case?

Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, a U.S. Supreme Court case where Texas is challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is scheduled for oral arguments on April 29. Section 5, which was reauthorized in 2006, applies to all or part of 16 states and it applies to nine states in their entirety. It requires those states to get federal approval before changing election rules or procedures, as a result of past laws and practices that discriminated against and disenfranchised racial minorities. This provision is referred to as the "preclearance" provision.

There is a debate about whether President Barack Obama's election means that the preclearance provision is no longer needed.

Ellen Katz, a University of Michigan law professor, wrote an article for the National Law Journal, as well as a blog posting, arguing that the Supreme Court should not decide whether the Obama presidency impacts the decision of whether preclearance is still needed. "To consider Obama's election now would fundamentally alter the legal inquiry and amount to an ill-advised power grab by the court," she said. She believes that if the Court uses the Obama presidency to impact its decision, then it would be deciding whether reauthorization of Section 5 was a good idea instead of deciding "whether Congress had good reason to think Section 5 is still needed."

Katz does not believe that the Court can ignore Obama's presidency. She argues that the parties should brief and argue the question. She also says that "Congress should be allowed to evaluate the significance of Obama's election in the first instance.

Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, refuted some of the assertions that Katz made in her article in a separate blog posting. He refuted the assertion that no state wholly covered by Section 5 voted for Obama and he refuted the assertion that Obama received less white votes than John Kerry did in 2004.

back to Blog