Skip to main content

Give Now

Shelby County v. Holder (2013)

Shelby County v. Holder (2013)


Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), was a landmark decision of the U. S. Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act requires certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before altering their voting laws or regulations. The VRA has been amended and renewed numerous times since 1965 and is regarded as one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. The VRA resulted in great increases in Black voter registration and turnout, and in higher numbers of minorities in elected positions. It also protected the voting rights of language minorities.Drawing of a vote going into a ballot box [View Image]
[View Image]
SCLC Crusade for the Vote brochure (cover detail)
Image courtesy: Social Welfare History Archives, Univ. of Minnesota Libraries via Social Welfare History Image Portal

On June 25, 2013, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 5-4 majority, that Section 4(b) of the act was unconstitutional. The opinion, authored by Roberts, was joined by Justices Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Section 5 was also unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan.

The Court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because the formula was based on data that is more than 40 years old, thus no longer responsive to current needs. The formula in Section 4(b) determined which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. This ruling eliminated all Section 5 preclearance until such time as Congress should enact a new formula.

In the aftermath of Shelby County v. Holder, states have made changes that impact Black and minority voters, including purges of voter rolls, stricter voter ID laws, and the closing of polling places.



For further reading:

Liptak. A. (2013 June 25) Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act. New York Times

Shelby County v. Holder Oyez

Shelby County v. Holder SCOTUSblog

Shelby County v. Holder Case Documents. Brennan Center for Justice.

Controlling the Vote — Rights. Registration. Representation. Discovery Set. Social Welfare History Image Portal.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Social Welfare History Project

Image Portal icon
[View Image]
[View Image]


Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal





View graphic version