Tags: Voting Rights | Shelby County v Holder | Supreme Court ruling | voting rights

Supreme Court Ruling on Voting Rights Act: Exactly What Did They Rule on Shelby County v. Holder?

By    |   Sunday, 22 Nov 2015 01:35 PM

Shelby County v. Holder was a United States Supreme Court ruling on voting rights that changed the way the U.S. Justice Department addresses potentially discriminatory voting laws.

Prior to the 2013 ruling, states deemed to have a history of discrimination were required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to obtain approval from the Justice Department before changing any of their voting laws. The states included under the act were all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Shelby County, Alabama, challenged Section 4, a part of the act that determined what states were included, and named U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as the defendant, The Washington Post noted.

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The U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 4 unconstitutional, but that doesn't mean that discriminatory voting laws are allowed. In fact, in his majority opinion Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote "our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting," The New York Times noted. Instead the ruling changes the way the federal government determines which states are covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The Washington Post pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court wasn't saying it was unconstitutional to require states with a history of discrimination to obtain permission before changing voting laws. Instead, the court determined that the criteria established for this purpose were too old and no longer relevant. The court's majority opinion stated "voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act's extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements." In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that if the government wanted to impose restrictions on states considered to have a history of discrimination, it needed to create a new formula for doing so.

In the absence of an amendment to the act that would establish new criteria, states have more freedom in establishing new voting laws, including those criticized as discriminatory. In fact, some states previously covered under Section 4 enacted new voting laws not long after the ruling. Some of these laws, such as requiring photo identification to vote, had been criticized on the grounds that they discriminated against specific groups of people, such as the poor or others unable to obtain the required documentation.

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Shelby County v. Holder was a United States Supreme Court ruling on voting rights that changed the way the U.S. Justice Department addresses potentially discriminatory voting laws.
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2015-35-22
Sunday, 22 Nov 2015 01:35 PM
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