Constitutional Law Keyed to Brest
Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed in order to address systemic disenfranchisement of black voters. Some of the provisions of the Act only applied to certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting. § 5 of the Act required that covered jurisdictions get federal approval for any changes to their voting procedures. § 4(b) provided the formula for determining which jurisdictions would be subject to § 5’s requirement. The formula defined the covered jurisdictions as those with tests or other measures as prerequisites to voting and low voter registration or turnout in the 1960s or 1970s. The Act was initially intended to last five years, but was continuously renewed. The last renewal of the Act took place in 2006 and reauthorized the Act for 25 years. Despite the repeated renewals, § 4(b)’s coverage formula remained the same—the criteria remained based upon state impediments to voting and low registration or turnout in the 1960s and 1970s. The Supreme Court opinion in Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, 557 U.S. 193 (2009) expressed doubts regarding the Act’s continued constitutionality. Plaintiff, a covered jurisdiction under the Act, then sought a declaratory judgment that §§ 4(b) and 5 are unconstitutional and a permanent injunction against their enforcement. The Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Act, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
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