25 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Shelby County v. Holder

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

See here for a previous discussion and more background on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

Shelby County v. Holder

In 2006, Congress reauthorized Section 5 the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which kept in place a pre-existing coverage formula in Section 4(b) which determined which jurisdictions are required see seek preclearance for changes to voting procedures. Shelby County, Alabama filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Voting Rights Act (specifically, Sections 4(b) and 5) were unconstitutional. The District Court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the Attorney General. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed. The question before the Court was whether Congress’ decision to reauthorize Section 5 of the VRA under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the VRA exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act t is unconstitutional; its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance. As a result, Congress cannot use the VRA's existing preclearance formula to single out jurisdictions--they must use data about current conditions.
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