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Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder (D.D.C.)

On November 22, 2010, CAC filed a brief in the federal district court for the District of Columbia in Shelby County v. Holder. Shelby County involves a constitutional challenge to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before altering their voting laws or regulations.

Conservative Justices on the Supreme Court have been working to limit Congress’s power to protect civil rights for more than a decade. In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize the VRA; in 2008, the Supreme Court in NAMUDNO v. Holder ducked a constitutional challenge to that reauthorization and the Act’s preclearance provision. Shelby County could be the case that brings this issue back before the Court, and CAC’s brief brought powerful arguments, rooted in text and history, before the district court.

CAC’s brief demonstrated that the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment give Congress broad authority – no less sweeping than Congress’s other expressly enumerated powers – to make sure the right to vote free from racial discrimination is fully enjoyed by all Americans. History shows that the Framers of the Fifteenth Amendment were fully aware that Congress needed broad authority to enact prophylactic legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act, to root out all forms of racial discrimination in voting.
Our brief drew from our own brief in NAMUDNO as well as our work on The Shield of National Protection (our text and history narrative concerning Congress’s power to enforce the Civil War Amendments).

On September 21, 2011, District Judge John D. Bates – an appointee of President George W. Bush – issued a 151-page opinion thoroughly rejecting Shelby County’s challenge to the Act’s preclearance requirement. In his opinion, Judge Bates echoed arguments made by CAC in our brief, recognizing “the preeminent constitutional role of Congress under the Fifteenth Amendment to determine the legislation needed to enforce it.”

Shelby County appealed Judge Bates’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

For further information on Shelby County, please go here.