28 Asian American Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Prevent Voter Discrimination by Upholding Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

Señalización de lugar de votación en Californi...

Señalización de lugar de votación en California. 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

February 1, 2013 -- Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder on behalf of 28 Asian American groups. The brief urges the Court to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to ensure that any proposed new voting rules do not discriminate against or disenfranchise minority voters. The lower court rejected Shelby County’s argument that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has enabled Asian Americans to challenge discriminatory voting changes,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of AALDEF. “AALDEF submitted comments to the Justice Department on three voting changes that were ultimately denied preclearance under Section 5. As Asian American political participation continues to grow, this key provision of the Voting Rights Act must be upheld to ensure the full and equal participation of all voters of color in the electoral process.”

“Asian Americans are often subject to the 'perpetual foreigner' stereotype and the evidence showing that Asian Americans and other minority voters in Section 5-covered jurisdictions continue to face voting discrimination is extensive and overwhelming,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC. “With the Asian American population growing significantly in Section 5 jurisdictions, Section 5 is greatly needed as a tool to prevent unconstitutional and discriminatory voting provisions.”

The federal VRA is one of the nation's most significant civil rights laws. Reauthorized by Congress in 2006 alongside other provisions of the VRA, Section 5, or the “preclearance provision,” is the heart of the law. Section 5 is intended to stop voter discrimination before it occurs. Under Section 5, states and counties with a history of racial discrimination must submit new voting rules and practices to the DOJ or the federal court in Washington, DC for review. This process ensures that the proposed changes do not reduce the ability of minority voters to participate in the electoral process. The VRA has been upheld by four consecutive U.S. Supreme Court decisions since it was enacted in 1965.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP served as pro bono counsel.

The amicus brief demonstrates that Section 5 is necessary to protect the voting rights of Asian Americans in areas including:

Language Access: Section 5 was used to ensure fully-translated ballots and language assistance at polling places in growing Asian American neighborhoods. Many of these examples are from New York City, in which three counties--New York, Kings and Bronx--are covered under Section 5.  

Political Representation: Section 5 has enabled Asian Americans and other minorities to object to discriminatory redistricting plans as recently as 2012, when the Texas State legislature’s redistricting plan was denied preclearance for diminishing the opportunity of people of color to elect candidates of their choice.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on February 27.