The Corner

A Setback in the Kinston Voting-Rights Case

Preoccupied with tax cuts, omnibus spending, and other matters, few in Washington noticed yesterday when federal district court Judge John D. Bates granted the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by residents (and candidates) of Kinston, N.C. The grounds: Bates believed they lacked standing to bring the suit.

The voters were contesting the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act after the Justice Department objected to the results of a voter referendum changing their town elections from partisan to nonpartisan. Bates’s one-sentence order simply dismisses the case and states that a “Memorandum Opinion will be issued shortly” explaining his reasoning.

The plaintiffs apparently plan to ask for an expedited appeal of Bates’s decision because there are no reasonable grounds for the dismissal. The first battle may have been lost, but the war has just begun.

This odd decision by Judge Bates just tees up the Shelby County case. Shelby County, Alabama, is also contesting the constitutionality of the renewal of Section 5. The county unquestionably has standing to sue. Oral arguments on motions for summary judgment in that case are scheduled for Feb. 2. The appeal of the Kinston dismissal may cause the Kinston case to end up in the Supreme Court at the same time the Shelby County case gets there.


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