Gov. Sonny Perdue is positing that Barack Obama’s performance in Georgia during the 2008 presidential elections is proof enough that the state should be freed of federal scrutiny mandated by the Voting Rights Act.
Through a private lawyer, the governor has filed an amicus brief in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, which will be argued in April and is predicted to be the most important case involving race and election law that the U.S. Supreme Court has heard in years.
The Texas lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval for any change in election law in nine states, including Texas and Georgia, and parts of seven others.
The friend-of-the-court brief was drawn up by Anne Lewis, deputy counsel for the state GOP, after Attorney General Thurbert Baker — a Democrat and an African-American — refused. Lewis, who did not charge for her services, successfully defended the Georgia law that requires voters to present photo identification.
Perdue makes two basic arguments — first, that Georgia is no longer the state that it was in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was first approved by Congress. It was most recently renewed in 2006. Secondly, Perdue argues that Georgia has been held hostage by the behavior of local governments, over which — according to the state constitution — state government has no control.
The brief argues:
Equally important to his interest in eliminating the unnecessary hard costs incurred in obtaining the federal government’s blessing upon every single change in any law, rule or regulation touching on Georgia elections, Governor Perdue has an interest in correcting the extremely negative and totally erroneous implication of Congress’ action.
Today’s Georgia is not, as Congress suggests, a place where the state or local governments sponsor racial discrimination in the electoral process that must be curbed by the federal government. To the contrary and as the data below shows clearly,Georgia has earned the right to be free from the preclearance requirements of Section 5.
The 2008 presidential election, in which Republican John McCain carried Georgia, demonstrates Georgia’s progress, Perdue argues — although, not to be rude, most Republicans last December also pointed to U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ easy runoff victory over Democrat Jim Martin as evidence that their influence in Georgia was secure.
According to the brief:
Nothing evidences that support more clearly than comparing the votes President Barack Obama received in Georgia with the votes received by the last two Democratic Presidential nominees, Senator John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore. In the 2008 election, President Obama received 1,844,137 votes of the 3.9 million Presidential votes cast in Georgia. Those raw numbers mean that President Obama received 47% of the votes cast in a majority Republican state with only 29% black population.
In Georgia, President Obama received a percentage vote 3.8 points higher than former Vice President Gore in 2000, and 5.6 points higher than Senator Kerry in 2004. Congress’ insistence that Georgia has “a continuing legacy of racism” in the context of the renewal of the VRA is nonsensical when an African- American candidate for President receives a greater percentage of the vote than his white predecessor candidates.
A state can escape the scrutiny of the Voting Rights Act, if it builds a record of compliance. But to do so is nearly impossible, Perdue argues:
Even if a county had a perfect record of compliance since 1965, one failure by a city or school board within the boundaries of the county will prevent the county from bailing out for another ten years. Similarly, one mistake by a city with a very small population will prevent the entire State of Georgia from bailing out.
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