Shelby County v. Holder

  • August 11, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Julie Ebenstein, Staff Attorney, Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium regarding the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    Just days before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we completed a three-week trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping anti-voter law. 

    In 2013, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act - and with it, the preclearance protections of Section 5 - North Carolina passed an election law shocking in its lack of a valid purpose and its extensive abridgement of citizens’ right to vote.  The challenged provisions of the law reduced the number of days for early voting, eliminated same-day-registration, and prohibited out-of-precinct Election Day voting.  Cumulatively, the law is one of the most repressive elections bills seen in decades. The law exemplifies a “second generation” barrier to voting.  It created broad, structural impediments to electoral participation, in part on the basis of race, and will likely impact hundreds of thousands of voters in the upcoming presidential election.

    In the pre-2013 world, the law would not likely have survived Section 5 preclearance, and thus, would never have been implemented.  But the absence of Section 5’s protection has created a severe disadvantage for voters challenging state’s vote denial measures. Our lawsuit, filed the day the law was implemented, illustrates some of the obstacles to protecting voting rights in the post-Shelby era.

    Section 2’s prohibition on racial discrimination is one of the remaining tools to protect the franchise, but it requires that litigation take place after a law has already gone into effect. As such, the advantages of time and inertia have shifted back to the perpetrators of voter suppression and away from its victims.  Section 2 cases are fact intensive, time-consuming and resource-intensive undertakings.  With constant election cycles, there is no guarantee that the legality of state election laws will be determined before voters are irreversibly disenfranchised.

    The 2014 federal election provides numerous examples. In late 2014, we saw rapid-fire orders by the U.S. Supreme Court, instructing the Sixth, Fourth, Seventh and Fifth Circuits to put election-related decisions on hold until after the election.  Over the course of three weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court made four determinations that affected voting rights in key federal elections.  On September 29, 2014, the Court stayed an Ohio district court decision, upheld by a Sixth Circuit appeals panel, enjoining the state’s cuts to early voting.  The following week, on October 8, the Court stayed the Fourth Circuit mandate to reinstate same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, after the district court declined to enjoin the practices.  The next day, the Court vacated the Seventh Circuit’s stay of a Wisconsin district court’s permanent injunction of the state’s strict voter ID law.  On October 18, the Court denied applications to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of a decision enjoining Texas’s voter ID law. 

  • August 7, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times discusses continued barriers to voting rights 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was first passed.

    In The New York Times, the Associated Press reports that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has struck a Texas voter ID law.

    In The Los Angeles Times, Rep. John Lewis and Sen. Patrick Leahy urge Congress to take the steps necessary to remedy the wrongdoings of Shelby County v. Holder.  

    Ari Berman in The New York Times details a history of opposition to the Voting Rights Act and urges Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 before thousands are disenfranchised in the 2016 presidential election.  

    Paul Rosenberg at Salon interviews Ari Berman about the Republican Party’s stance on voting rights and the longstanding, devastating effects of Bush v. Gore

    In USA Today, Gregory Korte covers President Obama’s speech on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in which he tasks Congress with the responsibility of restoring lost provisions of the Act.  

  • November 4, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Today your Facebook and Twitter feeds are likely full of posts from your friends telling you to vote. This morning when I turned on my computer I was instantly bombarded with ads and posts telling me who to vote for and others saying it doesn’t matter who I vote for, as long as I vote.  Admittedly I shared the first post I saw, which depicted a big button that said “Vote.” I added my own little commentary saying I hope my friends in D.C. and back home in Wisconsin vote today. I voted early last week, so in my mind I had done my civic duty. I smiled at my Facebook post thinking all my friends will see how civic-minded I am. Then reality hit.

    It was easy for me to vote early last week. I had the luxury of taking a long lunch hour and walking to the early polling place with two colleagues. As I walked in I was a tad annoyed when I was told there would be about a five minute wait. There was no line, how could there be a wait, I thought. But it was no big deal, for me anyway. I’m paid salary, not hourly, and I have an understanding boss who encourages me to vote. I didn’t have to worry about missing work, not making money while I took the time to walk to the polling place and cast a ballot. My biggest worries were the sudden drop in temperature which made it a rather chilly day and the ridiculous five minute wait, which actually ended up being only about a three minute wait. Still I rolled my eyes.

    But I voted and my vote will be counted, there’s no question about that. Regardless of whether the people I voted for win, I know I wasn’t disenfranchised. I never even had to worry about that. That’s not the case for far too many people in this country.

  • November 3, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law. Follow Professor Ellis on Twitter @atibaellis

    The debate over voter identification laws in this election season has shown once again that the voter fraud debate has shaped the right to vote over the last decade.  Recently, voter identification laws in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas – passed on the belief that the integrity of elections must be defended against the imminent threat of voters who will impersonate other voters and otherwise commit fraud—has spurred substantial litigation and, most recently, generated a hotly contested denial of a stay of the Texas voter ID law over a scathing dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

    Scholars like Lorraine Minnite, Richard Hasen, Justin Levitt and others, have shown that this voter fraud claim is a myth. Yet, right-leaning pundits like Hans von Spakofsky and Mona Charen have argued that voter fraud will likely occur in the 2014 election. Thus, some pundits, politicians and grassroots organizations like True the Vote see rampant voter fraud as real and looming, despite all research to the contrary.

    This voter fraud claim is often seen as partisan-motivated propaganda or a means perpetuating racial subordination – some call it the return of Jim Crow. Yet, as I argue in an article recently published in the Catholic University Law Review, these claims must be connected to the long saga of voter suppression in the United States. In The Meme of Voter Fraud (also available here), I explain that the voter fraud myth is the latest step in the evolution of the American ideology of exclusion – the belief that “unworthy” citizens should be excluded from the electorate. 

    A meme (an idea based on evolutionary theory) is any idea, belief, concept or behavior that spreads and replicates in the culture. Memes replicate through, among other ways, the sharing of narratives, teaching, or posting on the Internet (think cat videos!). Memes are appealing because they play into a person’s experiences, and on some level people identify with them. This fact prompts a person to share the idea, and the most attractive memes spread virally. As a meme spreads, people often modify it to attract a broader audience.  The new recipients will in turn transform the meme again and replicate it, causing it to evolve (and the changes that fail cause that particular meme to die off). A meme’s appeal and its ability to meet our psychological needs – for instance, for political or social power – causes people to spread memes, not the truth or falsity of the meme.

    People can connect one meme with other memes to develop a complex set of ideas – an ideology – which we use to view the world. And, as scholar J.M. Balkin has observed, ideologies that spur us to action to subjugate the rights of others inevitably result in injustice. Memes can enable power plays, and those most invested in maintaining that power maintain the meme to this end, despite any oppression that might occur.

  • October 2, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Kareem U. Crayton, associate professor of law, the University of North Carolina School of Law

    Voting has been described by the Supreme Court as “preservative of other basic civil and political rights.” So when law and policy leave voting insecure, the core project of governance itself faces grave risk. 

    During oral arguments preceding the June 2013 decision to invalidate a key feature of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Anthony Kennedy dismissed concerns that voting would become less secure for racial minorities. Even absent Section 5’s preclearance oversight for states with egregious histories of discrimination, Kennedy asserted, Section 2 of the law would allow citizens to use traditional litigation to block discriminatory laws. A year into the post-Shelby County era, we have initial evidence of how this litigation has fared in practice.

    One test of Section 2 is playing out in North Carolina, where this week the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the North Carolina NAACP and allied groups in their challenge of a state law that is widely recognized as the nation’s most restrictive. The Court’s decision ordered a preliminary injunction for two provisions of the law – the elimination of same-day registration, and the prohibition of out-of-precinct ballots from being counted. The decision means that these rules will not apply in the November election, contrary to an earlier decision by a U.S. District Court to deny this preliminary injunction. A full trial regarding the merits of the law will go to court next July.

    According to the 4th Circuit, “The district court got the law plainly wrong in several crucial respects" in assessing whether North Carolina’s measure, known as H.B. 589, was likely in violation of Section 2. They continued, "When the applicable law is properly understood and applied to the facts as the district court portrayed them, it becomes clear that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiffs a preliminary injunction and not preventing certain provisions of House Bill 589 from taking effect while the parties fight over the bill's legality."

    North Carolina’s H.B. 589 enacts multiple changes to the state’s election system. It eliminates same-day voter registration, prohibits out-of-precinct ballots from being counted, shortens the early voting period by a week, eliminates a successful pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year-olds, prohibits counties from extending Election Day poll hours to account extraordinary circumstances (such as long lines), permits poll observers to challenge voters, and implements a strict photo ID requirement.