WASHINGTON – The Justice Department filed a consent decree today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after reaching an agreement with the city of Williamsburg, Va., that will allow for the city’s bailout from its status as a “covered jurisdiction” under the special provisions of Voting Rights Act. If approved by the court, the bailout will exempt the city from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the act.
Covered jurisdictions, as determined according to Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, are required under Section 5 of the act to seek preclearance for any changes in voting qualifications, standards, practices or procedures from the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia or from the U.S. Attorney General, prior to their implementation. Section 4 of the act provides that a covered jurisdiction may seek to “bailout,” or remove itself from coverage, and therefore be exempted from the preclearance requirements, by seeking a declaratory judgment before a three-judge panel in federal district court. A bailout judgment can only be issued if the court determines that the jurisdiction meets certain eligibility requirements for bailout contained in the statute, including a 10-year record of nondiscrimination in voting-related actions. The act also provides that the attorney general can consent to entry of a judgment of bailout if, based upon investigation, the attorney general is satisfied that the jurisdiction meets the eligibility requirements.
The city of Williamsburg, Va., filed its bailout action in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 4, 2011. City officials had contacted the attorney general prior to filing its action, indicating that the city was interested in seeking bailout. The city provided the Justice Department with substantial information, and the department conducted an investigation to determine the city’s eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that the city meets the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout.
“In this case, the department carefully evaluated the information the city provided and conducted its own investigation. After close review, the department is now satisfied that the city is eligible for a bailout,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I appreciate the city's cooperation and the substantial information it provided. It has enabled us to reach a resolution in a manner envisioned by the Voting Rights Act.”
The consent decree details the legal and factual basis for a bailout determination and, if approved, will grant the city’s request. The court will retain jurisdiction for 10 years. The action can be reopened upon motion of the attorney general or any aggrieved person where the party alleges conduct by the city that would have originally precluded the city from bailing out if it had occurred during the 10 year period preceding entry of the consent decree.
Information about bailout, the Voting Rights Act, and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting/. Complaints may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.