Supreme Court to Hear (and Likely Uphold) a Challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965

On the heels of an election season in which voting rights were a hot-button issue, the United States Supreme Court is now poised to ratchet up the debate even further. On November 9, 2012, the Court granted certiorari in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder,1 a case involving a challenge to the 2006 extension of certain portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“the Act”).2 Specifically, the Petitioners in Shelby question the continued constitutionality of Section 5 of the Act, which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the federal government before implementing any change to their voting practices or procedures.3 Whether a jurisdiction is considered to have a history of voter discrimination (and therefore subject to preclearance) is determined by the Act’s nearly 50-year-old “coverage formula.”4 Petitioners argue that the retention of such an outdated standard exceeds Congress’s enforcement authority granted by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.5

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