Unpossible: Racism Against Latinos In Arizona

That's the basic conclusion of a challenge to the Voting Rights Act by the state of Arizona, which is seeking to overturn the law as unconstitutional. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act mandates that certain jurisdictions with a history of racial problems have their election changes subject to "preclearance" by the Justice Department.

The lawsuit may be unique in its frank use of Tenth Amendment language to argue implicitly that the VRA was unconstitutional even when it was first passed by Congress, when it was meant to ensure that black people were able to excercize their right to vote. The lawsuit declares that "such heavy handed intrusion on state sovereignty exceeds Congress’s authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments." So even when black people were being murdered in the South for trying to exercise their right to vote, the Voting Rights Act was an unconstitutional infringement on "states' rights." The last challenge to Section 5 didn't go so far -- it merely argued that racism was a thing of the past, what with having a black president and all. But similar to that suit, Arizona claims that preclearance is a form of "discrimination." So it still exists, just not for people of color. And certainly not in Arizona.

In 1975, the law was updated to include "language minorities," and the suit also alleges that the formula for determining which jurisdictions should be covered is arbitrary. The Arizona Attorney General's Office also offers a similar post-racial defense of Arizona in particular:

In 1974, Arizona became only the second state in the nation to popularly elect a Hispanic governor. There was no reason in 1975 to subject Arizona to the extraordinary burden of seeking approval from the Department of Justice for changes to its laws in 1975, and there certainly is no rationale to continue the practice today. As Congress recognized, despite reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006, “significant progress” has been made in addressing the concerns that originally justified the VRA. Congress noted “increased numbers of registered minority voters, minority voter turnout, and minority representation.”

Black president, no more need for race-conscious federal voter protections. Hispanic governor, same thing. This is coming from a state that recently passed a law that basically forces Hispanic residents to carry proof of citizenship at all times, and banned bilingual education and ethnic studies programs. Inconceivable that local election officials might play games with election practices in order to potentially disenfranchise voters of color. Republicans in Washington are still calling for the elimination of bilingual ballots because "these bilingual ballots may be used fraudulently to encourage people who are not citizens to vote illegally."

Section 5 does have a bailout provision. Covered jurisdictions can prove that preclearance is no longer needed. The lawsuit even acknowledges that certain counties in Arizona have successfully bailed out. But the objective here is ideological -- Arizona is seeking to reach their long-term goal of stopping the federal government from using its power to ensure people aren't being deprived of their right to vote. And they may just be successful. Last time around, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court all but declared that absent alterations to the law in Congress, they would be willing to overturn the Voting Rights Act.

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