Shelby County v. Holder (Voting Rights)

vote-buttonWhat happened?

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was enacted to address racial discrimination in voting.  It bans any “standard, procedure, or practice” that limits the right to vote of any citizen.  Because racial voting practices had become so entrenched in the laws and practices of certain states, Section 4 of the VRA created a “coverage formula” based on voter registration/turnout and those states falling below specific standards in the formula were labeled “covered jurisdictions” and subject to Section 5 of the VRA.   Section 5 requires all covered jurisdictions (states) to get federal approval of any change to voting laws, termed “preclearance”.  Essentially, if a state is a covered jurisdiction, the federal government controls the regulation of their elections.
  • Shelby County (AL), as a covered jurisdiction, sued the Attorney General (Holder) seeking a judgment that Sections 4 and Section 5 are unconstitutional.

How did the Court rule?

  • By a 5-4 vote, Section 4 of the VRA is unconstitutional, Shelby wins, in part.  The “coverage formula” may no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.
  • Nearly 50 years since the VRA things are dramatically different and turnout/registration rates in covered jurisdictions “now approach parity”.
  • Congress cannot rely on the past to single out jurisdictions for more onerous laws.

What did the dissent say?

  • The Court should defer to Congress and their choice in 2006 to extend the VRA as is
  • Over 700 requested voting changes submitted for approval (between 1982 and 2006) were denied because they were found to be discriminatory.
  • The Court ignores the legislative history and data and focuses solely on registration/turnout which do not tell the whole story.

What does the ruling mean?

  • All states and jurisdictions can create voting laws and policies on level ground.  No states are required to get federal approval for new voting regulations.

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