Voting rights need reestablished

Restore and renew the Voting Rights Act!??Congress is now considering the renewal of certain parts of the 1965 Voting?Rights Act that are due to expire in 2007. This landmark law has protected?the right to vote for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, Section 5 of the?VRA and the recovery of expert fees in voting rights cases have come under?attack in recent years.??Under Section 5 of the VRA, which is now up for renewal, states with a?documented history of discriminatory voting practices and low voter turnout?must submit planned changes in their election laws or procedures to federal?officials or judges for prior approval. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme?Court has undermined the effectiveness of the law by ruling in 2000 that?government officials can make intentionally discriminatory voting changes as?long as minority voters aren’t technically made worse off. For example, if?a minority community does not have any representation on a school board or?city council, government officials can make voting changes that are intended?to preventing minorities from being elected without violating Section 5?because they haven’t technically made minority voters “worse off,” because?they had no representation to begin with.??In regards to expert fees in voting rights cases, the vast majority of?voting rights law suits are brought by private lawyers and civil rights?groups. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that?winning parties in civil rights cases cannot recover expert witness fees as?part of the attorneys fees that they are entitled to receive. This decision,?West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey, has had a chilling effect?on voting rights litigation, because it requires lawyers to front thousands?of dollars in expert witness fees that will never be recovered. It also?greatly undermines the purpose of fee awards in civil rights cases, which is?to ensure that victims of discrimination can maintain access to the courts.?Litigating voting rights cases is particularly expensive because expert?witnesses are often needed to document the extent of voting discrimination,?analyze and present statistical evidence, and testify about the `totality of?circumstances’ surrounding racial discrimination.??To prevent further erosion of minority rights, Congress should reauthorize?the Voting Rights Act and fix these bad Supreme Court decisions, Reno v.?Bossier Parish School Board ‘ West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v.?Casey, so that Justice Department officials once again have the authority to?block intentionally discriminatory voting changes and so that civil rights?attorneys can recover their expert fees and expenses.


Chad Dunbar?