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Section 5 is unconstitutional: Opposing view

Luther Strange - Alabama Attorney General - Photo - Dave Martin - AP
Dave Martin/AP

by Luther Strange, USA TODAY

No one is arguing that the entire Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 2 is the most important part of the act. It gives people the right to challenge discriminatory laws in court. It applies to the entire nation. It is constitutional, and it will continue to protect all Americans.

What is unconstitutional is a different part of the act, Section 5. Section 5 applies only in a few states. Unlike any other law, Section 5 requires states to get permission from federal bureaucrats before making changes to their voting laws. This is costly, and Section 5 requires it even when the change is obviously lawful. For example, when parts of Alabama were evacuated recently because of a hurricane, local officials had to divert attention away from making people safe so they could get federal permission to postpone elections scheduled for that day.

Section 5 was supposed to be a short-term, emergency measure. It was constitutional when it prevented Southern officials from openly defying the Constitution in 1965. But the question before the Supreme Court is whether Congress had power, in 2006, to extend this measure for 25 more years. The answer is no. Congress could not conclude that a generation of people with no connection to the tragic events of the 1960s would be untrustworthy until 2031.

Alabama is not perfect on race relations, but we have seen great progress. Minority voter registration is better here than in states that don't have to comply with Section 5. The federal government hasn't rejected a statewide law in Alabama under Section 5 in 16 years. And the challenge from Alabama's Shelby County, which is before the Supreme Court today, has shown why unreliable data about Section 2 cases are no basis for treating states unequally. The problems Alabama faces today are not different than those faced by every other state in our Union.

Bull Connor, the Birmingham official who turned fire hoses on children in the 1960s, has been dead 40 years. The children of today's Alabama are not racist, and neither is their government. It is time for states covered by Section 5 to become equal parts of these United States.

 

Luther Strange is Alabama attorney general.