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For Immediate Release
July 30, 2012
(Washington, DC) – On Friday, July 27, 2012, the United States Department of Justice and Merced County, California, filed an agreement in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granting the County a bailout from coverage under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The bailout also exempts the 84 political subdivisions within the County from the Act’s special provisions. If granted by the court, it will be the largest number of political jurisdictions to bailout at one time.
Attorney J. Gerald Hebert, a sole practitioner in Alexandria, Virginia, represented the County in this bailout. Mr. Hebert has represented nearly all of the 104 jurisdictions that have successfully bailed out since the current version of the statute took effect in 1984. If the Justice Department-Merced County agreement is approved, the total number of bailed out jurisdictions will nearly double.
A bailout under the Voting Rights Act would relieve the County and all of its political subdivisions such as cities, school districts, and special districts from having to obtain federal pre-approval of changes it makes to its voting laws. The District Court has granted all bailouts consented to by the Justice Department.
“More and more jurisdictions are choosing to bail out since NAMUDNO,” Hebert said, referring to the 2009 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for political subdivisions as small as utility districts to become exempt from the Voting Rights Act’s special provisions through the bailout process. Hebert continued: “After all, obtaining a bailout is relatively easy and cost-efficient. A jurisdiction need only show that it affords all persons the opportunity to participate effectively in the electoral process.”
Hebert also noted that the agreement between the Justice Department and Merced County shows that failure to submit past voting changes for pre-approval does not bar jurisdictions from bailing out. The agreement notes that subdivisions within Merced County were allowed to “catch-up” on full compliance with the Voting Rights Act during the bailout process by submitting past changes.
Other jurisdictions that Hebert currently represents in bailout actions include cities and special districts in Yuba County, California, the City of Falls Church and Hannover County, Virginia, and the State of New Hampshire.