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Shelby County vs. Holder
● Mr. Harrison and Ms. Smith
● UD 7
● February 2014
Facts of the Case
● Shelby County, Alabama, filed suit in district court seeking a judgment
that Section 5 and Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are
unconstitutional and seeking a permanent injunction against their
● The District court upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights
Act Section 5
● The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that Congress did not exceed it
powers by re-authorizing Section 5
● The Supreme Court Agreed to hear the case in 2012
Shelby County, Alabama
Land area in square miles, 2010 784.93
Persons per square mile 2010 248.5
Granted a hearing by the Supreme Court:
Friday, November 9, 2012
Argued in front of the Court:
by Burt W. Rein for Shelby County
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. for DOJ
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
● In 2006, without obtaining federal preclearance, the city of Calera in
Shelby County held city council elections after re-drawing its city
● The re-districting eliminated the only district that gave African
American voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
● In the next election Councilman Ernest Montgomery, the second
African American in the history of the city to become a councilman,
lost his seat
● The redistricting changes were challenged by the USDOJ under
Section 5 forcing the city of Calera to redo its redistricting plan and
conduct new elections. Montgomery won back his seat
● Section 5 was originally enacted for 5 years but was continually
renewed by Congress.
Plaintiffs Shelby County, Alabama
Population, 2013 estimate 4,833,722
● White alone 2012 (a) 84.7% (SC) 70.0% (AL)
● Black or African American alone 11.5% (SC) 26.5% (AL)
● Two or More Races 2012 6.0% (SC) 4.1% (AL)
● Hispanic or Latino 6.0% (SC) 4.1%(AL)
● Median household income, 2008-2012 $69,379 (SC) $43,160 (AL)
● Persons below poverty level, percent definition and source info
Persons below poverty level, percent, 2008-2012 7.7% (SC) 18.1%
Attorney General Eric Holder
Commenting on the enforcement responsibilities of the DOJ
“The constitutionally protected voting rights of all Americans remain fully
intact. And the right to vote, free from discrimination based on race or
language, requires our vigilant protection” (Holder, p.1)
THE ACLU intervened in the case on behalf of the Alabama State
Conference of the NAACP “ Every eligible voter in Alabama regardless of
race has the right to have his or her vote count.” (ACLU p.1)
Question before the Court: Does the renewal of Section 5 of the Voter
Rights Act under the constraints of Section 4(b) exceed Congress’
authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and violate
the Tenth Amendment and Article Four of the Constitution?
What does section 4(b) say:
The Attorney General under any statute to enforce the guarantees of the
Fifteenth Amendment in any State or political subdivision the court finds
that a test or device has been used for the purpose or with the effect of
denying or abridging the right of any citizen of the United States to vote
on account of race or color, it shall suspend the use of tests and devices in
such State or political subdivisions as the court shall determine is
appropriate and for such period as it deems necessary.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Section 5
of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional in addition to Section 4
that the blatant discrimination against certain voters that Section 5 was
intended to prohibit is no longer evident.
Without such circumstances, Congress cannot constitutionally justify
placing the burden of Section 5 on the states in question
Outcomes and Opinions
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 5-4
● The Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act imposes
burdens that are no longer responsive to the current conditions in the
voting districts in question
● The constraints on specific states made sense in the 1960s and 1970s,
they do not any longer
● They represent an unconstitutional violation of the power to regulate
elections that the Constitution reserves for the states.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that Congress’ power to enforce the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments includes legislation such as the
Voting Rights Act.
● The evidence Congress gathered sufficiently proved that there was
still a current need to justify the burdens placed on the states in
● She also argued that, by holding Section 4 unconstitutional, the
majority’s opinion makes it impossible to effectively enforce Section 5
(Section 5 prohibits eligible districts from enacting changes to their
election laws and procedures without gaining official authorization.)
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