In what has been called a “serious set-back for the Holder Justice Department,” a federal appeals court has chosen to allow a lawsuit challenging a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to go forward.
The case in question involves a 2008 referendum in which the citizens of Kinston, N.C., voted to hold nonpartisan elections, which would keep the party affiliation of the candidates off the ballots, a common practice in the state.
The Justice Department, arguing that conducting elections in this matter would effectively discriminate against black voters, used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block the referendum results and make the town keep party labels on the ballot.
Section 5 requires the Justice Department to review changes to election laws in regions known as “covered jurisdictions,” which in the past were areas known to discriminate based on race. The vast majority of these jurisdictions are in the South.
At the time of the decision, Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King explained that Justice ordered the change because Kinston residents vote based on race, not party affiliation.
“In Kinston elections,” King wrote in a letter of explanation, “voters base their choice more on the race of a candidate rather than his or her political affiliation, and without either the appeal to party loyalty or the ability to vote a straight ticket, the limited remaining support from white voters for a black Democratic candidate will diminish even more.”
The Justice Department explained that citizens needed to have the party affiliation so that blacks could elect their “candidates of choice,” which the department identified as Democrats and “almost exclusively black,” according to the Washington Times in 2009.