The state of Mississippi and veterans of the civil rights movement are urging the Supreme Court to keep in place a key provision of the Voting Rights Act aimed at preventing discrimination at the ballot box.
Mississippi and three other states — California, New York and North Carolina — filed court papers Friday opposing a challenge to the provision.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Feb. 27 on that challenge, brought by officials in Shelby County, Ala.
The county says the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s “pre-clearance” provision is unconstitutional. It requires all or part of 16 states to get federal approval — either from the Justice Department or a federal court — before making any changes to their elections procedures because they have a history of discrimination.
Shelby County officials argue the provision, part of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, is outdated and unfair, and should be eliminated.
In court papers, officials from Mississippi and the other three states counter that the provision is still needed.
“Pre-clearance has historically been a vital safeguard, and it remains today an essential tool for preventing voting discrimination,” the states wrote.
Armand Derfner, a lawyer who argued a Mississippi Section 5 case before the Supreme Court in 1968, said the provision is still needed 45 years later.
“They want to put an end to that,” he said of officials in Shelby County. “That is such an outrage.” Derfner and other civil rights lawyers also have filed court papers opposing the county’s challenge.
Mississippi officials also said the “substantial benefits of the pre-clearance process have outweighed its burdens on covered jurisdictions.”