Attorney General

Shelby County v. Holder

In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) for 25 years. Section 5 of the VRA requires certain “covered” jurisdictions to obtain federal preclearance before making any alterations to their election laws. Section 4(b) sets forth a formula for determining if a jurisdiction is covered. Petitioner Shelby County, Alabama, a covered jurisdiction, asserts that the preclearance regime exceeds Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and violates the Tenth Amendment and Article IV. Other covered jurisdictions, amicihere, complain that the VRA’s restrictions subject them to a double standard and infringe on their state sovereignty rights. Attorney General Holder, the Respondent, contends that these restrictions are necessary to fight regression among states with a history of voting rights abuses. Shelby County argues that current conditions no longer justify preclearance at all, and that the coverage formula is antiquated in any case. Holder argues that preclearance remains a valid exercise of congressional power and that the formula, in combination with the VRA’s “bailout” provision, creates a coverage regime that meets the requirements of the Constitution.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether Congress’s decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the VRA under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) exceeded its authority under the Fifteenth Amendment and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.



Whether Congress’s twenty-five year extension of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its power to enforce the protections of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.


Edited by: 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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