Shelby County, AL v. Holder

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At a Glance

A county in Alabama successfully challenged the continued constitutionality of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which contained a formula identifying those jurisdictions that had to comply with the “preclearance” requirements of Section 5—i.e., receive approval from the Department of Justice or the United States District Court for D.C. before making any changes to voting rules. Back to top

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Five months from now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, we will face the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.  

The calamity of the Supreme Court’s decision can only fully be understood by looking at the Voting Rights Act’s history and all the harm to...

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About this Case

A county in Alabama successfully challenged the continued constitutionality of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which contained a formula identifying those jurisdictions that had to comply with the “preclearance” requirements of Section 5—i.e., receive approval from the Department of Justice or the United States District Court for D.C. before making any changes to voting rules.  After a federal district court and the D.C. Circuit upheld the law in its entirety, a five-justice Supreme Court majority found that Congress had failed to find adequate facts supporting its conclusion that Section 4(b) continued to capture jurisdictions with a particular propensity for voting rights violations.  The Court therefore concluded that Section 4(b) was not a constitutional exercise of Congress’s power under the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Although Shelby County had also challenged the constitutionality of Section 5, the Court did not pass on this issue—that said, the invalidation of Section 4(b) rendered Section 5 essentially a nullity.   

 

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