Justice Department Reaches Agreement with California Irrigation District on Bailout Under the Voting Rights Act
The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement with the Browns Valley Irrigation District, a special district in California, that, if approved by the court, will allow for the district to bail out from its status as a “covered jurisdiction” under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and thereby exempt the district from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The district covers part of Yuba County, which is a jurisdiction subject to Section 5. The agreement is in the form of a consent decree filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, certain covered jurisdictions, determined according to Section 4 of the act, are required to seek preclearance for any changes in voting qualifications, standards, practices or procedures from the U.S. District Court for 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 “bail out,” or remove itself from such coverage, and therefore be exempted from the preclearance requirements, by seeking a declaratory judgment before a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A bailout judgment can be issued only 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 only if, based upon investigation, the attorney general is satisfied that the jurisdiction meets the eligibility requirements.
The Browns Valley Irrigation District filed its bailout action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sept. 26, 2012. District officials had contacted the attorney general prior to filing its action, indicating that the district was interested in seeking a bailout. The district provided the Justice Department with substantial information, and the department conducted an investigation to determine the district’s eligibility. Based on that investigation, the department is satisfied that the district meets the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for bailout.
“In this case, the department carefully evaluated the information provided by the district, and conducted its own investigation, which has satisfied us that the district is eligible for bailout,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I appreciate the cooperation of district officials in providing the department with information that we have requested, and in moving toward a resolution of this matter in the way 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 district’s request. The court will retain jurisdiction of the action for 10 years and can reopen the action upon the motion of the attorney general or any aggrieved person alleging conduct by the district that would have originally precluded the district 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.