In the federal court of appeals in the District of Columbia, Circuit Judge Stephen Williams objected that the law specifies that these criteria are measured by what happened in elections several decades ago. But writing for a majority that upheld preclearance, Circuit Judge David Tatel said the question is not whether old data is being used, but whether it helps identify jurisdictions with the worst discrimination problems. "If it does, then even though the formula rests on decades-old factors, the statute is rational," Tatel said.
Shelby County, Ala., a well-to-do, mostly white bedroom community near Birmingham, adopted Roberts' arguments in its effort to have the voting rights provision declared unconstitutional, but lost in the lower courts. The county's appeal is among those being weighed by the high court.
Yet just a few years earlier, a city of nearly 12,000 people in Shelby County defied the voting rights law and prompted the intervention of the Bush Justice Department.
Ernest Montgomery became the only black member of the five-person Calera City Council in 2004, winning in a district that was almost 71 percent black. The city redrew its district lines in 2006 after new subdivisions and retail developments sprang up in the area Montgomery represented, and the change left Montgomery's District 2 with a population that was only 23 percent black.
Running against a white opponent in the now mostly white district, Montgomery narrowly lost a re-election bid in 2008. The Justice Department invalidated the election result because the city had failed to obtain advance approval of the new districts.
A lifelong resident of Calera and a church deacon, the 56-year-old Montgomery said he doesn't know whether discrimination was involved in the redistricting decision six years ago. But, he said, discrimination still exists and the law is still needed.
"I think things have gotten a lot more leveled out, but we're not to the point we need," he said.
Reeves reported from Calera, Ala.
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