By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – City and county annexations, redistricting and changes in voting places need not gain federal pre-approval before taking effect, under a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act.
“State law and other Voting Rights Act provisions would control these kinds of decisions,” said John Hill, attorney for the City of Tupelo, after the nation’s highest court struck down a key part of the 48-year-old law requiring federal pre-clearance of voting changes in nine states, mostly in the South, deemed to have practiced racial discrimination in elections.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the historic legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. Its central provision, Section 5, requires many state and local governments, including Mississippi, to get permission from the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before making changes in laws that affect voting.
Tuesday, a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4, which specifies which states are required to “pre-clear” changes before implementing them.
It did not nullify Section 5, which sets out the pre-clearance law, but by deleting which states are covered, Section 5 loses its meaning, constitutional authorities said.
Hill, who was active in working with officials on Tupelo ward changes recently, said it now appears that it’s up to Congress to decide which states are covered.
“The ruling’s substance appears to say that the pre-clearance requirements are no longer in place,” Hill noted.
For example, if this decision had been in effect when Tupelo or Lee County developed new ward or supervisor’s district lines, the changes still would have followed other Voting Rights Act requirements and state law, he explained, without DOJ’s prior approval.
Opponents of the changes still have the federal courts to turn to with legal objections.