Shelby County v. Holder
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was used to determine the states and political subdivisions subject to Section 5 preclearance, was unconstitutional. Section 5 is the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain jurisdictions to demonstrate to either the Attorney General or a federal court in Washington, D.C., that any proposed voting change is not discriminatory, before that change can be implemented. Thus, while the Court did not invalidate the preclearance mechanism in the Voting Rights Act per se, it effectively halted its use by invalidating the formula that determined which places were subject to the preclearance obligation.
About This Case
In April 2010, Shelby County, Alabama, a largely White suburb of Birmingham, filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking to have Section 5 declared unconstitutional. Shelby County claimed that Congress did not have the required constitutional authority when it reauthorized Section 5 in 2006.
On September 21, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of Section 5, holding that Congress acted appropriately in 2006 when it reauthorized the statute.
On May 18, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court ruling by a vote of two to one. The court summarized its decision as follows:
“Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered and acted pursuant to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote—surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution—is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the People's elected representatives.”
- Supreme Court Rules that Voting Rights Act’s Coverage Formula Is Unconstitutional
- Civil Rights Groups File Supreme Court Brief in Support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
- Federal Court Upholds Constitutionality of Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act
- FACT SHEET: Why the Voting Rights Act Remains Vital—Real Stories (PDF)
- VOTING RIGHTS ACT: Road to Shelby County v. Holder (PDF)
Civil Rights Community Shows Support for the Voting Rights Act
Real Voters Tell Their Stories: “The Voting Rights Act Protected My Vote”
The Voting Rights Act continues to play a critical role in preventing and addressing real threats to minorities’ right to vote in our country.
Sadly, voter discrimination based on race is not a thing of the past—it’s a reality of our present. In the 2012 election, efforts to disenfranchise millions of minority voters were only stopped because they were in areas protected by the Voting Rights Act.
New videos tell the stories of the people whose right to vote is under threat.
See how Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected voters in Shelby county, Alabama.
See how Texas passed a discriminatory law that would have denied Victoria Rose Rodriguez, a college student in San Antonio, the right to vote:
Hear an 82-year old woman tell the story about how the legislators in South Carolina tried to deny her the right to vote because she has never had a birth certificate:
These videos show just two attempts to deprive Americans of the right to vote that were stopped because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was able to step in and protect voters. And these examples do not stand alone. In just the last few years, a number of towns, cities, and states have tried to change election procedures in a way that takes away the rights of some Americans to vote—because of their race.
These practices range from the ID laws in these videos, to packing African-American voters into fewer districts to give them less of a voice, to moving around election dates.
Many such attempts have also been blocked by Section 5.
Because of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Victoria Rodriguez, Hanna White, and millions of other minority voters in South Carolina, Texas and other areas with a continued legacy of discrimination had their right to vote protected in the 2012 election.
Section 5 is a proven tool to ensure voters are not deprived of this fundamental right – it is flexible, ever evolving, and often helps prevent discrimination from ever taking root.
Although our country has made immense progress over past decades – thanks in large part to the Voting Rights Act – the law has a strong track record and continues to be needed to protect voters from genuine and documented attempts at disenfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act is necessary to ensure that our aspirations for a stronger democracy are a reality for all citizens.
If you care about protecting real people’s right to vote, share these videos today and stand up for the Voting Rights Act.