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Important U.S. Supreme Court Cases: Shelby County v. Holder (2013)

Posted by Matt Schmidt | Sep 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Gist: To regulate racial discrimination, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required historically discriminatory local and state governments to get federal approval before changing any of their voting laws or protocols. Selection of which states and local governments had to abide by this was determined by a formula. For decades, this portion of the act was upheld as a necessary form of enforcement legislation. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional, stating the formula was outdated and violated the principle of equality of the states.

The Details:

Not surprisingly, the county that decided to challenge the constitutionality of this Voting Rights Act provision came from Alabama, a state that has been historically discriminatory. The Supreme Court ruled that the formula for determining which states required federal approval for changes in their voting laws exceeded the federal government's power to regulate the 14th and 15th amendments because it was outdated, not relevant to modern needs and in violation of the 10th amendment, which provides that powers not delegated to the federal government by the constitution are left to the states.The Court explained while voting discrimination was still a problem, the Voting Rights Act had been successful in substantially decreasing the problem to where the formula was "designed to punish the past" instead of "ensure a better future."

This decision has been met with heavy criticism, and many activists and civil rights leaders have called for Congress to update the formula, arguing certain areas of the country still have discriminatory issues and aren't ready to ensure every citizen has equal access to the polls. Of course, because a formula regulating voting protocols is substantially political, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have yet to get anywhere to address the Court's decision. Also not surprisingly, since the decision, states with history of discrimination have already  passed new voting laws and procedures that have a negative impact on minority voters. And yes, one of those states includes Alabama.

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.


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