making local government more ethical

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Upheld in Its Application to Local Governments

The Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One doesn't like having to get approval from the federal government for changes in its voting policy, in order to prevent racial discrimination; it says that everything's fine and dandy in Northwest Austin. The requirement can be found in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, extended in 2006.

NAMUDNO, which apparently doesn't think the Voting Rights Act should have been extended, because racial discrimination is a thing of the past, sued the United States in 2006, trying to have itself exempted from this provision or have Section 5 declared unconstitutional. Yesterday it lost. A three-judge panel of the federal District Court of the District of Columbia  found the requirement constitutional (it's a 121-page decision; this is serious business, and it makes you wonder who all was backing the utility district, which services about 3,500 people, according to an AP article).

Click here to read the rest of this blog entry.

The suit will supposedly be on the Supreme Court docket this summer. And the outcome is uncertain.

Here's a short op-ed piece by an American Enterprise Institute voting rights expert, Edward Blum, explaining the political opposition to Article 5. According to an article in the Austin Chronicle, Blum helped convince NAMUDNO to file the suit, along with Gregory Coleman, former Texas Solicitor General and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, who offered his services pro bono. Many organizations opposed to racial discrimination supported the U.S. government.

Also take a look at this discussion of this week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Riley v. Kennedy, also concerning the application of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to a local government election. The legal theories are difficult, but it looks like the result will be a Republican governor re-imposing a Republican county commissioner on primarily African-American, primarily Democratic citizens.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics
rwechsler@cityethics.org