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PR- 030-13
January 20, 2013


Amicus in Shelby County, AL v. Holder Will Support Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, Which Prevents Unnecessary Burdens from Being Placed on Minority Voters

Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus Members Support Voting Rights of All Americans

Statement of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg:

“The right to freely and fairly participate in elections is the bedrock of our democracy, but t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that right was routinely denied to certain groups across the country. In New York through the 1960s, a statewide literacy test disenfranchised many citizens, including large numbers of Puerto Ricans. The Voting Rights Act was necessary to invalidate the test and protect the right to vote for all of our citizens. While New York has come a very long way since the 1960s, and is now a leader in making it as easy as possible to register to vote, there remain other jurisdictions where there are efforts to impose unnecessary burdens on voters. Our Administration believes that adoption of Section 5 was a constitutional and necessary act by Congress and should be upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Statement of Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn

“America prides itself as ‘the land of the free,’ and the right to vote is an essential part of that freedom. This King Day, we are reminded that all too often there are a handful of those who would rather ignore these rights by re-installing barriers, often on the basis of race, economics or political affiliation. We can’t allow the voting rights of our citizens to be eroded by such ignorance.  By filing this amicus brief, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. This week, the Council will vote on a resolution to send a message that the Supreme Court preserve the voting rights of minority voters by upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.” 

Statement of Council Member Robert Jackson, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus

“Forty-eight years ago, a great man took a stand and began a march to shed light on one’s right to vote and denounced the voting suppression that was administered because of the color of one’s skin.  In order to commemorate Martin Luther King’s 84th birthday, we are following in his footsteps and taking a stand by signing on to this Amicus Brief that protects section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We must do all in our power to prevent this modern day voting suppression, which is trying to hinder minority groups from exercising their civic duty and expressing their choice through the power to vote.  There is no better way to honor MLK’s legacy and celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama’s second term by demonstrating our support for all the minority ethnic groups that are entitled to coalesce and elect a representative of their choosing.”

Statement of Council Member Fernando Cabrera, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus

“This is an appropriate step for the Council to take in support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; to stand up for the voting rights of not only New Yorkers, but for all Americans. And how fitting that this step is taken in the midst of the inauguration of President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Day.”
Background on Shelby County, AL v. Holder and the City’s Interest

This week, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, New York City will take an important step to help defend the constitutionality of a key component of the Voting Rights Act. On Wednesday, January 23rd, the Council will vote on a resolution authorizing the filing of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Shelby County, AL v. Holder

At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that jurisdictions that had imposed literacy tests, and had less than 50 percent voter turnout in the 1964 or 1968 elections, be subject to special scrutiny (“preclearance”) by the Department of Justice or a panel of judges from US District Court for DC when changing their election and voting laws ensure that the voting strength of racial and ethnic minority groups is not diminished.

In 1970, when Section 5 was scheduled to sunset, Congress re-authorized the provision and included voter turnout in the 1968 election as a qualifying criteria. This meant that, since New York State law included a literacy test, three counties in New York City (Bronx, Kings, and New York counties) with low voter turnout in the 1968 elections were added to the list of jurisdictions covered by Section 5. In the 32 years since the City became a covered jurisdiction, the City has precleared over two thousand voting changes with the Justice Department. 

In Alabama, Shelby County sued the Department of Justice alleging Section 5 violates the Constitution and that, in passing it, Congress went beyond its enumerated powers.  After losing in both the District Court and in the D.C. Circuit Court, Shelby County has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Mayor and the Speaker and the City Council will jointly file an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the law. The City’s brief will support the constitutionality of Section 5 without taking any position on how and where it is applied, which is not a subject of this lawsuit.


Marc La Vorgna/Samantha Levine   (212) 788-2958

Zoe Tobin (Council)   (212) 788-7116


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