Sacks Tierney Files Supreme Court Brief in Support of Voting Rights Act

February 23, 2013 Patty A. Ferguson-Bohnee Judith M. Dworkin General

Brief is filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation and Native American voters in defense of the Act’s pre-clearance provision

Sacks Tierney has filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to explain the importance that Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act has had in overcoming purposeful efforts to disenfranchise Indian voters. The brief was filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation and several Native American voters in support of the Respondents and Respondent-Intervenors in Shelby County v. Holder.

Shelby County, Alabama, initiated the legal action in an attempt to strike down Section 5 of the Act, which requires certain jurisdictions with long patterns and practices of voting discrimination to “pre-clear” with the U.S. Department of Justice any proposed changes to election laws.

While discrimination against African Americans was a major catalyst for the 48-year-old Voting Rights Act, its protections extend to other minorities, including Hispanics and Native Americans. In the Navajo Nation’s brief, Sacks Tierney attorneys Judith M. Dworkin and Patty A. Ferguson-Bohnee wrote:

Indian people have endured a century of discrimination and overcome new obstacles each generation in order to exercise the right to vote in state and federal elections. Nowhere have these struggles been more prevalent than in the Section 5 covered jurisdictions of Apache, Navajo and Coconino Counties in Arizona, the home of the Navajo Nation.

While passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 ended certain means of discrimination, Indians continued to be denied the right to vote through a variety of new strategies. As part of the 2006 reauthorization process, Congress obtained evidence that Indians continued to be disenfranchised by voting schemes, polling place discrimination and ineffective language assistance. The 2006 reauthorization was a legitimate Congressional response to the disenfranchisement. Protected by the Section 5 preclearance, voter registration and turnout have increased, but new challenges have arisen that require continued vigilance. […] The minimal burden required of covered jurisdictions to comply with Section 5 is justified to protect Indian voters.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Shelby County case in late February.