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Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder

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Brief Fact Summary.

Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting and which applied to only some States, in response to entrenched racial discrimination in voting. The requirements, originally scheduled to be effective only for five years, are still in effect and are now scheduled to last until 2031. Survey shows the racial gap in voter registration and turnout was lower in the States covered by the Act than it was nationwide.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Constitution and laws of the United States are “the supreme Law of the Land.” State legislation may not contravene federal laws.

The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Second: the Act intentionally confines these remedies to a small number of States and political subdivisions which in most instances were familiar to Congress by name.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting and the requirement applied to only some States. Congress enacted the Act to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting. The requirements were originally scheduled to be effective only for five years but 50 years later, they are still in effect and are scheduled to last until 2031. Survey shows the racial gap in voter registration and turnout was lower in the States covered by the Act than it was nationwide. Shelby County, Alabama, sued the Attorney General in federal district court in Washington, D.C., arguing that sections 4(b) and 5 of the Act are facially unconstitutional.

Issue.

Are the Act’s extraordinary requirements, including its disparate treatment of the States, constitutional today?

Held.

No. A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be sufficiently related to the problem that it targets. The coverage formula met that test in 1965 when the Act was enacted, but no longer does so. Surveys demonstrate that racial discrimination in voting has significantly reduced. Moreover, Congress must identify the States covered by the Act on a basis that makes sense in light of the current conditions. However, Congress’ reliance on data from the record that they claim justify disparate treatment among States have no logical relation to the present day. Thus, the Act’s requirements, which applies only to some States, are unconstitutional.

Dissent.

Justice Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan

  • Voting discrimination still exists and continuance of the requirements would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made, especially where other remedies had been tried and failed.
  • Congress’ judgment regarding exercise of its power to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment – related to voting – warrants substantial deference from precedents and constitutional text.

Concurrence.

Justice Thomas

Our nation has changed and the conditions that originally justified the requirements of the Act no longer characterize voting the in the target States.

Discussion.

When we first upheld the Act in 1966, we concluded that legislative measures not otherwise appropriate could be justified by exceptional conditions. The unique circumstances – pervasive racial discrimination in voting, which had infected the electoral process of America by the time of the enactment – have considerably improved. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity, blatant discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare and minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.


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