Voting Rights Act Defended in Supreme Court Brief by Bailed Out Jurisdictions in Shelby County v. Holder


Today, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amici brief to defend the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder on behalf of several jurisdictions that have bailed out under the Act by demonstrating a record of non-discrimination.

Under the challenged provisions, certain “covered” states and localities, predominantly in the South, must obtain Justice Department approval, or “preclearance,” before changing any election practice or procedure, such as moving polling locations or altering voting districts. However, if those jurisdictions 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.

The amici brief refutes a string of inaccuracies put forth by the petitioner, Shelby County, Alabama, regarding the burdens of the bailout process. The amici curiae Washington County, VA, the General Registrar of Voters of Essex County, VA and the City of Kings Mountain, NC explain that the bailout process to terminate coverage is financially feasible, and neither cumbersome nor complicated.  The brief further highlights that Shelby County itself would apparently not qualify for a bailout due to a past violation of the Voting Rights Act by a city within the county.

“The covered jurisdictions from Virginia and North Carolina speak from experience in stating that the bailout provisions are neither onerous nor cost-prohibitive despite the claims of Shelby County,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Beyond the exaggerated claims of the hardships of the bailout process, the violations of the Voting Rights Act committed by the City of Calera in Shelby County are exactly the type of actions these provisions within the Act are designed to prevent in order to protect minority voters.”

The Legal Center’s brief also chronicles the history of the “bailout” provisions, arguing that bailout serves to tailor the coverage of Section 5 and ensures that the preclearance requirement is a valid exercise of Congress’s authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

“The bailout mechanism updates the geographic scope of the special provisions on an ongoing basis, and provides further assurances that Section 5 is a congruent and proportional means to ensure our elections are free of discrimination.” said Ms. Malloy.

Oral argument before the Supreme Court is scheduled for February 27.

To read the brief, click here.