The U.S. Supreme Court in the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder effectively gutted the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act. By holding Section 4 (the "formula") unconstitutional the Court severly underminded Section 5, the law's primary enforcement provisions. ACS will continue to serve as a resource on the case and the issue of voting rights – one of the most fundamental rights.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) remains one of the most important and effective laws ever enacted. It outlaws discriminatory voting practices that have disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities in the United States for decades and continues to ensure an open electoral process. As we have seen over the past few years, many states and jurisdictions still seek to enact their own measures aimed at making it harder for people – often minorities, the elderly, and the young – to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
Section 5 of the VRA requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to submit any proposed voting changes to the federal government for “preclearance” before they are enacted to ensure that they are not discriminatory. An overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress voted in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 for another 25 years following an extensive and exhaustive review of the record. Shelby County is arguing that it was unconstitutional for Congress to reauthorize Section 5. While a district court and federal court of appeals upheld Section 5, its fate moved into the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which in the past has consistently upheld Congress' authority over the VRA but on June 25 reversed course.
The high court in 2013 also considered in Arizona v. ITCA, a state voter registration law that conflicted with the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA or the “motor voter” bill). While the NVRA allows people to register to vote using a simple, uniform postcard, Arizona’s law rejected the federal form unless it also complied with the additional – and, not surprisingly, onerous – state documentation requirements. The Supreme Court ruled on June 17, 2013 – by a resounding 7-2 vote – that Arizona's law was unconstitutional.
(Click here for deatils about the areas covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.)
2013 SUPREME COURT DECISIONS
Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder (decided June 25, 2013)
- ACS President Caroline Fredrickson's statement on the decision
Arizona v. ITCA (decided June 17, 2013)
ACS RESOURCES ON VOTING RIGHTS
"Keeping Faith with the Constitution" by Goodwin Liu, Pamela S. Karlan & Christopher H. Schroeder
ACS Issue Briefs
- The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014: A Constitutional Response to Shelby County by law professors William Yeomans, Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Gabriel J. Chin, Samuel Bagenstos and Gilda R. Daniels
- The Voting Rights Act Is In Jeopardy, But It Shouldn't Be: A Close Look at Shelby County v. Holder by the Constitutional Accountability Center's David H. Gans and Elizabeth B. Wydra
- The New Wave of Election Regulation: Burden without Benefit by Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt
Restore Section 4: What Congress Must Do Now to Protect Voting Rights (July 2, 2013) by Gilda R. Daniels, Associate Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law; former Deputy Chief in the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section
Shelby Co. v. Holder: The Crippling of the Voting Rights Act (June 27, 2013) by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law
‘Shelby County’ Will Come to be Regarded as the ‘Dred Scott’ of Our Time (June 25, 2013) by Gabriel "Jack" Chin, Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis, School of Law; co-author of an amicus brief in Shelby County, and of The Tyranny of the Minority: Jim Crow and the Counter-Majoritarian Difficulty
Roberts Court Ignoring Congress, Deals Major Blow to Voting Rights Act (June 25, 2013) by Jeremy Leaming
Supreme Court Tosses Arizona’s Strict Voter ID Law … For Now (June 17, 2013) by Jeremy Leaming
ACS VOTING RIGHTS EVENTS
"The Value of a Vote: Reassessing Political Equality" -- June 15, 2013 -- ACS 2013 National Convention, Washington, D.C.
Representative John Lewis (R-Ga.) receives the 2013 Progressive Champion Award -- June 14, 2013 -- ACS 2013 National Convention, Washington, D.C.
COURT DOCUMENTS / CASE ANALYSIS / STATEMENTS
Statement by ACS President Caroline Fredrickson on Shelby County arguments
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (DOJ) RESOURCES
OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES
SCOTUSblog information page
Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) information page
The Leadership Conference information page
Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Voting Rights Project page
NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) information page
MALDEF information page
AALDEF resource page
Election 2012: Voting Laws Roundup (Oct. 11, 2012), The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Leadership Conference, Lawyers' Committee & MALDEF fact sheets on the NVRA and Arizona v. ITCA, Inc.
Scalia’s Limited Understanding of the Voting Rights Act (April. 26, 2013) Op-ed by Gary May. The Washington Post
Argument Recap: Voting Law in Peril — Maybe (Feb. 27, 2013) by Lyle Denniston. SCOTUSblog
Court to Return to Constitutionality of Voting Rights Act: In Plain English, (Feb. 25, 2013) by Amy Howe. SCOTUSblog
Voting Rights Act in the Supreme Court’s Crosshairs, (Feb. 20, 2013) by Sahil Kapur. Talking Points Memo
- 5 Reasons Why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Enhances Our Democracy (Feb. 19, 2013) Issue Brief by Sandhya Bathija, Center for American Progress
- Voting Law Changes in 2012 (Oct. 3, 2011) by Lawrence Norden, Wendy R. Weiser, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
- Media Matters voting pieces:
- Note To Media: The Voting Rights Act Challenge Is Not Just Black And White
- Media Shouldn't Write Off Justice Scalia In Coverage Of Voting Rights Act Challenge
- O'Reilly Argues With Both Colin Powell And The Facts On Voter Suppression And Voter Fraud
- Facts And Myths About The Supreme Court Challenge To The Voting Rights Act
- Associated Press Ignores Voting Rights Act's Relevance To North Carolina Voter ID
- Right-Wing Media Tout New Conspiracy Over DOJ's Involvement In Voting Rights Act Bailouts
- WSJ's Taranto Attacks Voting Rights Act By Attacking An Obituary, Ignores Legal Analyses And Case Law
- Right-Wing Media Hails South Carolina Voter ID Decision, Ignores Court's Concerns About Racial Discrimination
- Two New Reports (Further) Debunk Right-Wing Media Claims That Voter ID is "Colorblind"
- Voting Rights Act Support Is Bipartisan, Even If Limbaugh Disagrees