Gilda Daniels

  • August 25, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In 2013, the Supreme Court severely weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its  decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In a discussion of the post-Shelby era at the 2014 ACS National Convention, Gilda Daniels, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, offered both hope for and a realistic take on the challenges facing those who are working to protect voting rights.

    Daniels has made her career as a voting rights expert with over a decade of experience bringing cases on provisions of the Voting Rights Amendment and other statutes. As a former deputy chief in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, Daniels recognizes Shelby’s immense impact on voting laws in the United States. More restrictive voting laws have already appeared throughout the country, and the legal means to challenge discrimination in voting are too costly both in terms of time and money to be the solution. “It’s very similar to what happened during Reconstruction,” Daniels remarked. “You pulled the protections, and you got massive voter suppression, and I am afraid that can happen in this generation.”

    Daniels argued that powerful advocates are the key to protecting voting rights. While the Voting Rights Act Amendment is a good start, “it still leaves a gulf between what is needed and what’s being proposed,” according to Daniels. The new landscape of voting offers new opportunities to speak to the importance of this right and challenge discrimination. “We have to be more creative about how we fashion the narrative, how we talk about voting rights, how we put our cases together, where we file our cases so we can start regaining ground we have lost,” Daniels explained. Even reminders that voter registration matters, Daniels argued, can be an important step to tipping the scales in favor of voting rights again.

    Watch the brief interview with Gilda Daniels below or here. For information about the VRAA see this ACS Issue Brief

  • July 2, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Gilda R. Daniels, Associate Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law. Daniels is a former Deputy Chief in the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section. For more on Daniels' work, visit her website

    Four years ago, the Supreme Court dared Congress to change the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions would be subject to federal oversight of voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Congress did nothing. In the recent Shelby County decision, the Court indicated that it was forced to act stating, “[Congress’s] failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare §4(b) unconstitutional.” Further, the Court seems to deny its culpability, positing that the “nation has changed” and the formula does not address “current conditions.” While it acknowledges that the Voting Rights Act is responsible in large part for increasing voter registration for black voters and the number of minority elected officials, it essentially says that enough is enough.  It gives the impression that it views Section 5 as medicine for a disease that is no longer at epidemic proportions, but refuses to allow a targeted and effective remedy to currently infected areas. Thus, a majority of the justices, without doubt, believe that the “current conditions” of fewer disparities in voter registration, for example, merit the removal of all life sustaining legislation. 

    We’ve seen this before. In 1883, the Supreme Court found that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which sought to make former slaves full and equal citizens, was unconstitutional. This marked a turning point in becoming a nation where all men were truly created equal. In less than 20 years after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the last African American left Congress after states implemented barriers to the franchise, such as literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and felon disenfranchisement laws.  It would take seventy years before an African American would return to Congress from a former Confederate state and almost a century from the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment before Congress would provide the nation with tools to combat massive and violent disenfranchisement in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  

    Have conditions changed since 1965? Absolutely! No more segregated lunch counters, water fountains, Bull Connor in the courthouse door.  Does discrimination in voting continue to exist?  Absolutely!  The Court admits that fact, but decides that a state’s right to be treated equally instead of a citizen’s right to equal treatment is supreme.

  • February 26, 2013
    Guest Post


    by Steven D. Schwinn, associate professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and an editor of the Constitutional Law Prof Blog. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    When the Supreme Court takes up the Voting Rights Act case this week, Shelby County v. Holder, the Justices will focus on this question: Whether Congress had authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to require certain jurisdictions to gain federal preclearance before making any changes to their election laws.  But lurking in the background of the Question Presented is a curious nod to federalism.  Thus the Court will ask if Congress exceeded its authority, then did it violate the Tenth Amendment and Article IV—provisions that, according to the petitioner, protect states’ rights.

    We might wonder where this federalism concern comes from.  After all, neither the Tenth Amendment nor Article IV limits federal authority because of states’ rights.  Neither provision says anything about the substantive scope of federal authority; and neither provision obviously grants a claim of states’ rights.  Instead, they simply outline the necessary relationship between the federal government and the states in a federal system like ours.  These provisions are, at most, a blueprint for federalism.  They add nothing to the core question of congressional authority, the real issue in the case.

  • February 26, 2013
    Guest Post


    by Gilda R. Daniels, Associate Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and former Deputy Chief of the United States Department of Justice, Voting Section. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium on Shelby County v. Holder.

    It would certainly be ironic if Alabama, the state that gave us the Voting Rights Act in 1965 because of its opposition to providing African American citizens the ability to register and vote, would also serve as the state that would end a key part of the Act.  It could happen.  It shouldn’t, if the Supreme Court recognizes the significance of ensuring that history does not repeat itself.

    On February 27, the United States Supreme Court will hear Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  The Voting Rights Acthas two primary provisions: Section 2 is permanent and prohibits race discrimination in voting and Section 5, which is one of the temporary provisions, requires periodic Congressional reauthorization.   What Section 5 does is very important.  It is both prophylactic and preventative and requires “covered jurisdictions” to “preclear” voting changes before they can implement them.  These changes can range from a redistricting to the mundane moving of a polling place across the street.  Regardless, the VRA requires the jurisdiction to submit the change to either the Attorney General of the United States or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for approval prior to implementation. Alabama is one of the originally covered Section 5 jurisdictions.

    In March 1965, more than 600 marchers embarked on a journey to walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to spotlight the belligerence and entrenchment of voting disenfranchisement for African Americans.  On Sunday, March 7, the marchers barely reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge before law enforcement officials beat and tear gassed the young people and children who bravely attempted the march.   After “Bloody Sunday,” Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address the widespread state sponsored shenanigans surrounding the right to vote, such as,  poll taxes, literacy tests, closure of registration sites, acts and threats of violence surrounding voter registration and participation that remained rampant throughout much of the country,  especially in the South.   President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “one of the most monumental laws in the entirehistory of American freedom.”   In August 1965, less than five months after the Edmund Pettus incident, he signed the Voting Rights Act.

  • February 14, 2013

    by Andrew Hamm

    Hundreds of thousands converged upon the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness Barack Obama take the oath of office for a second term as president. This act consummated the conferral of responsibility by the electorate, having exercised in November the fundamental right to vote that defines our nation. That defining right, however, has required constant protection – through marches, amendments, protests, and legislation – and with that vigilance.

    Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez, at a recent discussion on elections issues at the University of Baltimore School of Law, explored an imminent threat to the right to vote – the challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the upcoming Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder. Perez explained how the Voting Rights Act emerged from a long and difficult struggle, manifest especially in the events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. In signing the act – the “crown jewel” of civil rights legislation – President Lyndon Johnson expressed the importance of the vote, “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” Section 5 requires certain states and localities, mostly in the South, with long histories of racial discrimination in voting to obtain “preclearance” of any proposed changes to their elections procedures from the DOJ or a federal court in Washington, D.C. (See ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resources Page for more on the VRA and the Shelby County case.)

    Perez (pictured) emphasized that the struggle for equality and civil rights resembles a “marathon relay” for which “banishing the blight of racial discrimination in voting” is not yet complete. Although the Voting Rights Act has long enjoyed consistent bipartisan support, including reauthorization in 2006 by President Bush, it has recently come under intense assault. Having faced only eight challenges to its constitutionality between 1965 and 2010, the Act has since confronted ten lawsuits.