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Shelby County v. Holder

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court swept away a key provision of this landmark civil rights law in Shelby County v. Holder.

Published: August 4, 2018

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local govern­ments do not pass laws or policies that deny Amer­ican citizens the equal right to vote based on race. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court swept away a key provi­sion of this land­mark civil rights law in Shelby County v. Holder.

In April 2010, Shelby County, Alabama filed suit asking a federal court in Wash­ing­ton, DC to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act uncon­sti­tu­tional. Section 5 is a key part of the Voting Rights Act, requir­ing certain juris­dic­tions with a history of discrim­in­a­tion to submit any proposed changes in voting proced­ures to the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice or a federal district court in D.C. – before it goes into effect – to ensure the change would not harm minor­ity voters. In Septem­ber 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and in May 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the district court that Section 5 was consti­tu­tional. Shelby County appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case in Novem­ber 2012.

On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the cover­age formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act — which determ­ines which juris­dic­tions are covered by Section 5 — is uncon­sti­tu­tional because it is based on an old formula. As a prac­tical matter this means that Section 5 is inop­er­able until Congress enacts a new cover­age formula, which the decision invited Congress to do. The Bren­nan Center’s state­ment on the decision is avail­able here.

The Bren­nan Center for Justice, along­side many other part­ner organ­iz­a­tions, submit­ted amicus briefs in the case. All the amicus briefs submit­ted in the case, includ­ing the Bren­nan Center’s brief, along­side the Supreme Court docu­ments can be found in our Shelby County v. Holder case docu­ments page.

For more inform­a­tion on the precursor case to Shelby County, NAMUDNO v. Holder, click here.