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Shelby County v. Holder

United States Supreme Court
570 U.S. 529 (2013)



In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the enactment of this statute, several states maintained test or devices, such as literacy and knowledge tests, good moral-character requirements, and vouchers requirements for registered voters. In several states, white citizens were registered to vote at a rate approximately 50 percent higher than African American citizens, as a percentage of total eligible voters in each classification. Because of these conditions, Congress determined that racial discrimination in voting restrictions was entrenched and pervasive. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited any standard, practice, or procedure imposed or applied to deny or limit the right to vote on account of race or color. In the states with the most severe restrictions, Congress required any changes in voting procedures be preapproved by either the Attorney General or a court of three judges in Washington, D.C., under § 5 of the act. These states were determined through a formula set forth in § 4(b). Both § 4(b) and § 5 were temporary and were set to expire after five years. Congress reauthorized these two sections in 1970 and updated the coverage formula in § 4. This happened again in 1975 and 1982. The 1982 reauthorization was effective for 25 years and did not change § 4(b)’s coverage formula. In 2006, Congress again reauthorized § 5’s restrictions for another 25 years and did not change § 4(b)’s coverage formula. However, by 2004, the voter-registration figures were nearly equal between white citizens and African American citizens. Shelby County, Alabama (plaintiff) sued the federal government (defendant), seeking a declaratory judgment that § 4(b) and § 5 were unconstitutional. The district court found that the provisions were constitutional. Shelby County appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which affirmed. Shelby County then petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Roberts, C.J.)

Concurrence (Thomas, J.)

Dissent (Ginsburg, J)

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