U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Preclearance Provisions of the Voting Rights Act, But Strikes Down Formula That Determines Where They Should Apply

Congress left to determine which states are most likely to disenfranchise voters

Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR /  415.543.9697 x216 / cfrancis@lccr.com
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which challenged the constitutionality of the “preclearance” provisions, also known as Section 5, of the Votings Rights Act.  These provisions required that certain states and local jurisdictions with a history of discrimination obtain permission to make any changes to their election systems from federal authorities prior to any election. In a 5 to 4 vote, the court struck down Section 4 of the Act, which establishes the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement.
While the court upheld the core of Section 5 preclearance provisions, acknowledging that voting discrimination still exists, in striking down the coverage formula,  the Court struck a debilitating blow to voting rights. Section 5 is the strongest antidote to voter discrimination in nearly 50 years, and today’s decision has nullified its effectiveness until Congress creates a new formula that will address any current or future abuse of voting rights. The result could be that some jurisdictions covered under the previous formula, like Kings, Monterey and Yuba counties in California, may no longer have to adhere to the preclearance provisions, pending determination by Congress of a new coverage formula.
“A new coverage formula will be necessary to address the harms suffered by voters in the 21st century. We know based upon our experiences here in California, often touted as a ‘minority-majority’ state, that even as we become more diverse, the institutional and structural inequities of racism, vote dilution and voting discrimination continue to persist.” says Oren Sellstrom, Legal Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (Lawyers’ Committee).
“The Lawyers’ Committee’ success in fighting voter discrimination and vote dilution is testament to the continuing need for robust voting rights protections throughout California and the nation,” says Joanna Cuevas Ingram, Equal Justice Works Voting Rights Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee.
“This is only the first step. The Lawyers’ Committee has a long history of involvement in voting rights protection, including cases that have come before the United States Supreme Court, such as Lopez v. Monterey, which was cited in the majority opinion upholding the general preclearance provisions of Section 5,” adds Kimberly Thomas Rapp, Executive Director at the Lawyers’ Committee.  “Based on today’s decision, however, it is clear that our work is not finished and we must push Congress to expand the coverage formula to address continuing voter discrimination as it impacts communities of color and language minority communities in California and throughout the country.”