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The Effects on Voting Laws after the Shelby v Holder Supreme Court Ruling - 1

Challenge to Section 4 and 5

In 1965 The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson and was amended five times thereafter for the purpose of expanding the protections of the law and enforcing its provisions which were originally assured under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Section 4 defines the Act's coverage formula which was aimed at incorporating areas of the country, particularly in the Southern states, which operated in the apparent highest expanse of blatant voting discrimination at the time of the Act's implementation. Section 5 of the Act disallows jurisdictions from executing any modifications that would affect voting laws currently in place, without first attaining authorization directly from the Attorney General or a panel made up of three judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; a procedure known as preclearance. Without the coverage formula of Section 4 being renewed by Congress, any jurisdictions previously subjected to Section 5's preclearance regulation would not be able to be held to its requirements.

In April 2010, in a lawsuit initiated by Shelby County, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, versus Eric Holder, the current Attorney General of the United States (Shelby County v. Holder) was filed in Washington, DC's federal court The suit called for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to be declared unconstitutional based on the premise that Congress exceeded its constitutional powers when the body extended the authorization of Section 5 for an additional twenty-five year period during its 2006 session.

The Lawyers' Committee (LC) along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voting Rights Project entered the suit in August of that year to initiate a defense of Section 5's constitutionality. The LC was the representative of Bobby Lee Harris, a former council member of a town from Shelby County. Attorney General Eric Holder, the named respondent, along with other Shelby County residents who had also entered the suit as respondents were represented by the other groups listed above.

Fashioned in 1963 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, the Lawyers' Committee is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, impartial organization, introduced to recruit the private bar's leadership and resources for the general purpose of battling ethnic discrimination and the subsequent disparity of opportunity. Their efforts remain dynamic through present day and they continue to be a stout protagonist of issues and topics that are engaged in the upper court system.

In the suit's initial test, in September, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of Congress' 2006 twenty-five year reauthorization of Section 5, denying Shelby County's motion for summary and their challenge to the Section's constitutionality. The Opinion written by Judge John Bates also upheld the Constitutionality of Section 4 citing previous challenges as substantiation, and their resultant reluctance to "second-guess Congress's 2006 determination to preserve the traditional coverage formula," and noted that "a continued prevalence of voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions notwithstanding the considerable deterrent effect of Section 5 in those jurisdictions over the preceding 25 years." Covered jurisdictions are those states, counties, and municipalities which were selected for their blatant voter suppression policies in 1965. In summation the Opinion stated that "Accordingly, this Court finds that Section 4(b)'s disparate geographic coverage remains 'sufficiently related to the problem that it targets."

The full opinion of that ruling can be found by clicking here on the Lawyers' Committee Website.

Next: The Appeal and Supreme Court Case, Click here