Voting Rights' Future: A 'Shelby' Refresher

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — It won't be long before the Supreme Court announces its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, in a major ruling that will determine whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is struck down. The court heard arguments in the case back in February.


So why is Section 5 important, again? Quick refresher: It's the provision that requires the jurisdictions it covers to obtain "preclearance" from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing any voting changes. In other words, areas that have had some issues with discrimination have to get an OK before they implement things like the restrictive voter-ID laws that were so controversial during the lead-up to the last presidential election.

The case arose when Shelby County, Ala., filed suit against the federal government, arguing that the South — where most of Section 5's covered states and counties are — is not the way it was almost 50 years ago, and the provision is no longer necessary. Plenty of civil rights advocates, pointing to very recent attempts to limit voting rights, would beg to differ. 


As we await the decision, a roundup of commentary on how this all works, and what's really at stake:

Bracing for a massive blow to democracy: "If the court struck down or weakened Section 5, it would lead to the largest rollback of American democracy since the end of Reconstruction," Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told MSNBC Wednesday.

Five consequences of cutting out the heart of the Voting Rights Act: A report, titled "If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications" (pdf), identifies five categories of discriminatory voting changes about which the Brennan Center for Justice is concerned.

How Section 5 stopped a modern-day poll tax: Zachary Roth tells the story of the provision's effect on two sisters in Texas, arguing that "the demise of Section 5 would give those working to thwart the political power of America's growing minority population a far freer hand."


Texas redistricting fight shows why the Voting Rights Act is still needed: The Nation's Ari Berman argues that the state is the perfect case study showing that Section 5 still has a role.

Don't risk racial progress, Supreme Court: "The wise men and women on the Supreme Court have no way to know if overturning Section 5 will reverse nearly 50 years of progress in eliminating racist political schemes to limit the power of minority voters. But at a time of increasing racial politics in the nation, the high court will be placing a racially explosive bet if they eliminate Section 5," Juan Williams argues in a piece for The Hill.


Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer and White House correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter