Today marks the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a devastating ruling that immobilized a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that was one of the most effective tools for protecting voters and strengthening our political process. As a result, far too many state and local jurisdictions have unabashedly considered and passed racially discriminatory voting laws; wasted millions of dollars defending them; and cost millions of disproportionately black and Latino Americans their most basic right in our democracy: The right to vote.
For nearly 50 years, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with the worst histories of voter discrimination – mostly, but not exclusively in the South — to notify the federal government of every proposed voting change and get its approval before implementing those changes, a process known as “preclearance.”
The law used a formula set forth in Section 4(b) to determine which jurisdictions are required to secure pre-clearance. It was this formula that the Supreme Court struck down in Shelby County, leaving Section 5 and its pre-clearance requirement intact but dormant.