[JURIST] A group of citizens from Kinston, North Carolina, on Wednesday filed suit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] claiming that Section 5 [DOJ backgrounder] of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text] unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race. Section 5 requires certain voting districts to seek federal approval before making any changes to voting procedure, in order for the government to ensure that the changes do not adversely affect minority voting rights. Kinston had sought to institute a non-partisan voting system, but was denied approval [DOJ letter, PDF] to do so by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. The DOJ found that even though the system was not intended to harm minority interests, it would have the effect of reducing minority political representation. The group filing the complaint [advocacy backgrounder] argues that Section 5 is unconstitutional because it does not provide the same protection for non-minority groups and because its original rationale has now expired.
In June, the US Supreme Court [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] Section 5 without reaching its constitutional validity. The court ruled 8-1 in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the VRA permits covered municipalities to "bail out" from the preclearance requirement of Section 5 if they can establish a history of compliance with the VRA, but declined to rule on the constitutionality of Congress's 25-year extension of the section in 2006. The city of Kinston did not seek the bail out option.