More Bailouts of Covered Jurisdictions Moving Forward as Supreme Court Weighs Voting Rights Act


This week more jurisdictions moved forward with bailouts from the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act as the Supreme Court weighs a challenge to the constitutionality of those provisions.  Yesterday, a three-judge court in Washington, DC approved a final consent decree exempting the City of Wheatland, California from the Act’s preclearance provisions.  On the same day, the Justice Department announced that it had reached agreement on a bailout with the city of Falls Church, Virginia (along with the Falls Church City Public School District) and submitted a proposed consent decree for approval to a three-judge court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  

The preclearance provisions, known as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, are being challenged in Shelby County v. United States, a case currently being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The covered jurisdictions, including all or parts of sixteen states, are required to seek preclearance before changing any election practice or procedure, such as moving polling locations or altering voting districts.  However, when jurisdictions, like Falls Church, Wheatland and others can demonstrate that they have had a clean record of voting practices over a ten-year period and have taken additional steps to ensure non-discriminatory elections, they are permitted to “bail out” of this preclearance requirement.

In the Shelby County case before the Supreme Court a number of critics of Section 5 argued in briefs that the bailout process was far too arduous and cost-prohibitive.  Beyond Falls Church and Wheatland, the State of New Hampshire bailed out last month and California’s Brown’s Valley Water District also successfully bailed out in January.  In addition to dozens of earlier bailouts, a number of other bailouts are currently awaiting court approval.  

“There has been a parade of successful bailouts and it just keeps going, eviscerating the argument that the process is both too arduous and too expensive,” said Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert, who serves as legal counsel to both Wheatland and Falls Church in his capacity as a solo practitioner.  “These and the many other bailouts also prove that the coverage formula self-tailors, and therefore Section 5 coverage adjusts to current needs required to protect the franchise.  The Voting Rights Act today remains a vital safeguard of every citizen’s right to vote, but the cities of Wheatland and Falls Church, like an ever-growing number of other bailed out state and local governments, have proven that they have maintained stellar voting rights records and no longer require Section 5 coverage.  Still more bailouts are in the currently in the works as the Supreme Court considers the Shelby County case, proving beyond a doubt that the bailout process is neither illusory nor unworkable as its critics claim.”

To read the consent judgment and decree for Wheatland, California, click here.

To read the joint motion to enter consent judgment and decree for Falls Church, Virginia, click here.

The Campaign Legal Center filed a friend of the Court brief in Shelby County v. United States.  To read the brief, click here.