Supreme Court Rules that Voting Rights Act’s Coverage Formula Is Unconstitutional

Categories: News, Voting Rights

In a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that determines which jurisdictions have to preclear any voting changes with the federal government before those changes can go into effect.

The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5, the provision Shelby County challenged, but instead ruled that the provision used to determine which jurisdictions are covered was unconstitutional. Congress will have to create a new formula for deciding which parts of the country are subject to preclearance.

“Today’s decision is a major setback to our democracy and will have a real and detrimental impact on the voting rights of Americans. No one should be fooled by the naïve fantasy that voting discrimination no longer exists,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The Shelby County v. Holder challenge was brought by Shelby County, Alabama (a largely White suburb of Birmingham) in 2010. The county argued that Congress had no constitutional authority to reauthorize Section 5 of the VRA in 2006 because the widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era is over. In 2011, U.S. District Judge John Bates upheld Section 5 as constitutional saying, “Congress in 2006 found that voting discrimination by covered jurisdictions had continued into the 21st century, and that the protections of Section 5 were still needed to safeguard racial and language minority voters.”

When the Court decided to hear Shelby, The Leadership Conference, joined by 28 other civil rights organizations, submitted an amicus curiae brief, asserting that Section 5 is still a necessary tool for protecting the rights of voters in states with histories of voting discrimination, especially in light of voter ID laws and other recent voting restrictions in states covered by Section 5 like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina.

“[A]s the Court acknowledged, voting discrimination still exists. The Court invited Congress to draft another coverage formula. We urge Congress to act responsibly, with urgency, and on a bipartisan basis to revise the coverage formula to protect voting rights for minorities,” said Henderson.

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