Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, more than a dozen U.S. states that had a history of racial discrimination in 1972 are still paying the price nearly 40 years later. Arizona says that’s unconstitutional, and its Attorney General has filed suit against the federal government to invalidate what he calls “an irrational system” that hasn’t given states credit for the progress they have made.
For the affected states, Section 5 of the Act requires federal government pre-approval for any changes in state election laws, and also for redistricting decisions.
According to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, those pre-approval requirements are no longer necessary or constitutional.
“Arizona has been subjected to enforcement actions for problems that were either corrected nearly 40 years ago and have not been repeated or penalized for alleged violations that have no basis in the Constitution,” said Horne, a Republican, who filed the suit Thursday.
“The historical Voting Rights Act was meant to overcome horrendous voting discrimination that occurred in the South,” Horne added. “But they implemented an irrational system. We are being severely penalized for something that happened in 1972 that was corrected in 1975. It’s not only unconstitutional, I think you could describe it as crazy.” Horne said Arizona failed to meet the law’s requirements in 1972, but overcame that problem by implementing bilingual voting in 1974.
The Voting Rights Act’s criteria have not been updated in nearly 40 years.
Horne is pushing for the court to either eliminate or exempt Arizona from the federal pre-approval requirement. It can take months for states to navigate that process, severely delaying state action on new election laws.
The Justice Department intends to fight the challenge.
“The Voting Rights Act plays a vital role in our society by ensuring that every American has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
But Horne is optimistic that the Arizona challenge will be successful.
“It would mean that the state can do its own work without facing irrational interference from the federal government,” he said.