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Press Release

Supreme Court Issues Decision in Shelby Case

June 25, 2013

Juneau, Alaska – The United States Supreme Court today issued a decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, holding that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 contains a formula identifying jurisdictions that had to submit any changes in their election laws to the federal government for pre-approval or “preclearance.” The decision frees Alaska from the onerous requirement that it ask permission from the federal government before making any change to its election laws or procedures, no matter how small.

“The State welcomes today’s ruling, because it removes the taint of federal supervision of Alaska elections and gives the Division of Elections flexibility to respond to local needs and conditions without federal interference,” Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said. “The State’s commitment to Alaska remains steadfast to ensure all Alaska voters are able to exercise their right to vote, free from race or language discrimination. We will continue to protect voting rights and to provide minority language Alaska voters with the assistance they require to express their political will at the ballot box.”

The court found that Section 4’s formula no longer accurately identifies jurisdictions in need of this federal supervision. The court therefore held unconstitutional the requirement that only covered jurisdictions - including Alaska - submit proposed changes to the federal government for preclearance. The prohibitions against discrimination in voting remain in place, and Alaska continues to be committed to ensuring that all its residents have equal access to the polls.

In today’s decision, the court emphasized that the preclearance requirement was a “drastic departure from the basic principles of federalism” that must be justified by “current needs.” The court ruling added, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

The court invited Congress to revise the Voting Rights Act to create a new coverage formula that would identify jurisdictions with current problems of voting discrimination.

For more information, contact Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh at 269-5200.

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