Shelby Cnty. v. Holder, No. 12–96.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtChief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation570 U.S. 529,186 L.Ed.2d 651,133 S.Ct. 2612
Docket NumberNo. 12–96.
Decision Date25 June 2013
Parties SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA, Petitioner v. Eric H. HOLDER, Jr., Attorney General, et al.

570 U.S. 529
133 S.Ct.
2612
186 L.Ed.2d 651

SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA, Petitioner
v.
Eric H. HOLDER, Jr., Attorney General, et al.

No. 12–96.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Feb. 27, 2013.
Decided June 25, 2013.


Bert W. Rein, for Petitioner.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, for Federal Respondent.

Debo P. Adegbile, for Respondents Bobby Pierson, et al.

133 S.Ct. 2618

Frank C. Ellis, Jr., Wallace, Ellis, Fowler, Head & Justice, Columbiana, AL, Bert W. Rein, William S. Consovoy, Thomas R. McCarthy, Brendan J. Morrissey, Wiley Rein LLP, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Kim Keenan, Victor L. Goode, Baltimore, MD, Arthur B. Spitzer, Washington, D.C., David I. Schoen, Montgomery, AL, M. Laughlin McDonald, Nancy G. Abudu, Atlanta, GA, Steven R. Shapiro, New York, NY, for Respondent–Intervenors Bobby Pierson, Willie Goldsmith, Sr., Mary Paxton–Lee, Kenneth Dukes, and Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sherrilyn Ifill, Director–Counsel, Debo P. Adegbile, Elise C. Boddie, Ryan P. Haygood, Dale E. Ho, Natasha M. Korgaonkar, Leah C. Aden, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., New York, NY, Joshua Civin, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., Washington, DC, Of Counsel: Samuel Spital, William J. Honan, Harold Barry Vasios, Marisa Marinelli, Robert J. Burns, Holland & Knight LLP, New York, NY, for Respondent–Intervenors Earl Cunningham, Harry Jones, Albert Jones, Ernest Montgomery, Anthony Vines, and William Walker.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General, Sri Srinivasan, Deputy Solicitor General, Sarah E. Harrington, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Diana K. Flynn, Erin H. Flynn, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Federal Respondent.

Jon M. Greenbaum, Robert A. Kengle, Mark A. Posner, Maura Eileen O'Connor, Washington, D.C., John M. Nonna, Patton Boggs LLP, New York, NY, for Respondent–Intervenor Bobby Lee Harris.

Chief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

570 U.S. 534

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5

570 U.S. 535

of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And § 4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States—an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, "an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution." South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 309, 86 S.Ct. 803, 15 L.Ed.2d 769 (1966). As we explained in upholding the law, "exceptional conditions can justify legislative measures not otherwise appropriate." Id., at 334, 86 S.Ct. 803. Reflecting the unprecedented nature of these measures, they were scheduled to expire after five years. See Voting Rights Act of 1965, § 4(a), 79 Stat. 438.

Nearly 50 years later, they are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions. By 2009, "the racial gap in voter registration and turnout [was] lower in the States originally

133 S.Ct. 2619

covered by § 5 than it [was] nationwide." Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, 557 U.S. 193, 203–204, 129 S.Ct. 2504, 174 L.Ed.2d 140 (2009). Since that time, Census Bureau data indicate that African–American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by § 5, with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent. See Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau, Reported Voting and Registration, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin, for States (Nov. 2012) (Table 4b).

570 U.S. 536

At the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act's extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, "the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs." Northwest Austin, 557 U.S., at 203, 129 S.Ct. 2504.

I

A

The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, in the wake of the Civil War. It provides that "[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude," and it gives Congress the "power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

"The first century of congressional enforcement of the Amendment, however, can only be regarded as a failure." Id., at 197, 129 S.Ct. 2504. In the 1890s, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia began to enact literacy tests for voter registration and to employ other methods designed to prevent African–Americans from voting. Katzenbach, 383 U.S., at 310, 86 S.Ct. 803. Congress passed statutes outlawing some of these practices and facilitating litigation against them, but litigation remained slow and expensive, and the States came up with new ways to discriminate as soon as existing ones were struck down. Voter registration of African–Americans barely improved. Id., at 313–314, 86 S.Ct. 803.

Inspired to action by the civil rights movement, Congress responded in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 was enacted to forbid, in all 50 States, any "standard, practice, or procedure ... imposed or applied ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." 79 Stat. 437. The current

570 U.S. 537

version forbids any " standard, practice, or procedure" that "results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." 42 U.S.C. § 1973(a). Both the Federal Government and individuals have sued to enforce § 2, see, e.g., Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 114 S.Ct. 2647, 129 L.Ed.2d 775 (1994), and injunctive relief is available in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect, see 42 U.S.C. § 1973j(d). Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.

Other sections targeted only some parts of the country. At the time of the Act's passage, these "covered" jurisdictions were those States or political subdivisions that had maintained a test or device as a prerequisite to voting as of November 1, 1964, and had less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout in the 1964 Presidential election. § 4(b), 79 Stat. 438. Such tests or devices included literacy and knowledge tests, good moral character requirements, the need for vouchers from registered voters, and the like. § 4(c), id ., at 438–439. A

133 S.Ct. 2620

covered jurisdiction could "bail out" of coverage if it had not used a test or device in the preceding five years "for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." § 4(a), id., at 438. In 1965, the covered States included Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. The additional covered subdivisions included 39 counties in North Carolina and one in Arizona. See 28 C.F.R. pt. 51, App. (2012).

In those jurisdictions, § 4 of the Act banned all such tests or devices. § 4(a), 79 Stat. 438. Section 5 provided that no change in voting procedures could take effect until it was approved by federal authorities in Washington, D.C.—either the Attorney General or a court of three judges. Id., at 439. A jurisdiction could obtain such "preclearance" only by proving that the change had neither "the purpose [nor] the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." Ibid .

570 U.S. 538

Sections 4 and 5 were intended to be temporary; they were set to expire after five years. See § 4(a), id., at 438; Northwest Austin, supra, at 199, 129 S.Ct. 2504. In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, we upheld the 1965 Act against constitutional challenge, explaining that it was justified to address "voting discrimination where it persists on a pervasive scale." 383 U.S., at 308, 86 S.Ct. 803.

In 1970, Congress reauthorized the Act for another five years, and extended the coverage formula in § 4(b) to jurisdictions that had a voting test and less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout as of 1968. Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, §§ 3–4, 84 Stat. 315. That swept in several counties in California, New Hampshire, and New York. See 28 C.F.R. pt. 51, App. Congress also extended the ban in...

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148 practice notes
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 2:15–cv–02193–LSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 10, 2018
    ...U.S. Attorney General or a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See Shelby Cty. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2620, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013). The U.S. Attorney General precleared Alabama's 2003 voter ID law, including the positively i......
  • Can. Hockey LLC v. Tex. A&M Univ. Athletic Dep't, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-181
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 4, 2020
    ...since the Supreme Court decided Georgia , it has only cited the case, in any capacity, three times. See Shelby Cty., Ala. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 585, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting); Haas v. Quest Recovery Servs., Inc. , 549 U.S. 1163, 127 S.Ct. 1121, 11......
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...and proportionality" test from City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. at 520, and the "current needs" test from Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529, 542 (2013), apply to Thirteenth Amendment legislation. Specifically, he contends that those tests- created in the context of the Fourteenth and ......
  • Cause v. Rucho, No. 1:16–CV–1026
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • January 9, 2018
    ...formula in 1965, as had the percentage of proposed voting changes facing objections from the Attorney General. Shelby Cty. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2626, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013). And of particular note, in its decision holding that the 2011 Plan constituted a racial gerryman......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
120 cases
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 2:15–cv–02193–LSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 10, 2018
    ...U.S. Attorney General or a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See Shelby Cty. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2620, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013). The U.S. Attorney General precleared Alabama's 2003 voter ID law, including the positively i......
  • Can. Hockey LLC v. Tex. A&M Univ. Athletic Dep't, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-181
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 4, 2020
    ...since the Supreme Court decided Georgia , it has only cited the case, in any capacity, three times. See Shelby Cty., Ala. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 585, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting); Haas v. Quest Recovery Servs., Inc. , 549 U.S. 1163, 127 S.Ct. 1121, 11......
  • United States v. Roof, 17-3
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 25, 2021
    ...and proportionality" test from City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. at 520, and the "current needs" test from Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529, 542 (2013), apply to Thirteenth Amendment legislation. Specifically, he contends that those tests- created in the context of the Fourteenth and ......
  • Cause v. Rucho, No. 1:16–CV–1026
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • January 9, 2018
    ...formula in 1965, as had the percentage of proposed voting changes facing objections from the Attorney General. Shelby Cty. v. Holder , 570 U.S. 529, 133 S.Ct. 2612, 2626, 186 L.Ed.2d 651 (2013). And of particular note, in its decision holding that the 2011 Plan constituted a racial gerryman......
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22 books & journal articles
  • Rights, Structure, and Remediation: The Collapse of Constitutional Remedies.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 7, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214, 220-21 (1875). (149.) HUQ, supra note 2, at 147-48. (150.) Id. at 147. (151.) See, e.g., Shelby Cnty. v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529, 554-55 (2013); Sec'y of Md. v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. 947, 965-68 (1984); Aptheker v. Sec'y of State, 378 U.S. 500, 515-16 (1964); Fi......
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  • POLITICAL TRUST, SOCIAL TRUST, AND JUDICIAL REVIEW.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 36 Nbr. 2, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...Clause nor by Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment). (107.) South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966); Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529(2013). (108.) Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110 [section] 4, 79 Stat. 437, 438-39 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 4......
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