Last night, the ACR Project filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court of Washington State, addressing what’s surprisingly an issue of first impression: the meaning of one of the protected classes in the Voting Rights Act.
This case, Portugal v. Franklin County, has been litigated under the Washington Voting Rights Act. Washington passed the WVRA in 2018 to extend protections beyond those offered by federal law to “protected classes.” It defined “protected classes” to include “language minority group[s], as this class is defined in the” federal Voting Rights Act.
When Congress passed the original Voting Rights Act in 1965, it protected Americans against only discrimination based on race and color. That changed in 1975, when Congress added as an additional protected class the term relevant to the current WVRA litigation: “language minorities or language minority group[s].” Congress simultaneously defined “language minorities and language minority group[s]” to include: “persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives or of Spanish heritage.”
The VRA did not define “persons … of Spanish heritage,” though. No prior case has addressed the meaning of the phrase. Instead, every case nominally applying this language has seen the parties assume its meaning without analysis. Unfortunately, their universal assumption is wrong — those cases have granted irrelevant relief to the wrong people, without beginning to address the very-real concerns of those Congress protected in 1975.
Our brief explains how the historical context, the VRA’s text (supported by contemporaneous usage), the whole enactment rule, and the legislative history all point toward the same meaning of “persons … of Spanish heritage,” as adopted in the WVRA by the Washington legislature. That language protects America’s native-Spanish-speaking citizens, who face linguistic barriers to their communication with the larger American electorate.
We’ve asked SCOWA to recognize this clear meaning of the VRA (and the WVRA), to prevent the self-appointed, English-speaking spokespeople for all “Hispanics” who brought the case from misappropriating the legal protections of their Spanish-speaking relations, and, so, to start the process of assuring that Congress’s 1975 VRA amendments (and the WVRA, which incorporated them) actually protect that at-risk population.
You can read our full brief, below.