Supreme Court hears voting rights case at end of 2008 arguments term

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard its final oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] for the 2008 term Wednesday. In Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court will consider whether the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text] permits the appellant municipality to "bail out" from the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 [DOJ backgrounder] if it can establish a history of compliance with the VRA, and whether Congress was justified by current voting discrimination when it extended the requirement in 2006 for another 25 years. Section 5 requires prior review before changes in voting laws can be enacted in certain states. The plaintiff was a municipal utility district in Texas that wanted to be exempted from the requirement. The US District Court for the District of Columbia found [opinion, PDF] in favor of the federal government. Counsel for the municipality argued:

After more than 20 years of steadfast compliance with the Voting Rights Act, Northwest Austin MUD Number One is entitled to be free from the intrusive burdens of preclearance. ... This natural parallelism between bailout and preclearance allows bailout to serve its ameliorative purposes of encouraging, recognizing, and rewarding long-term compliance and progress.
Counsel for the respondent argued:
Congress's reauthorization in 2006 was the paradigmatic attempt of what to do in Congress. It didn't redefine a rate, nor did it cast aspersions at Supreme Court doctrine. Rather, it took that doctrine seriously, both this Court's teachings with respect to the Voting Rights Act specifically, as well as the - as the scope of the Congress's Reconstruction enforcement powers, and arrived at a considered judgment. After 16,000 pages of testimony, 21 different hearings over 10 months, Congress looked at the evidence and determined that their work was not done.
The Court released [press release, DOC] an audio recording of the argument shortly after its conclusion.

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