Fifty Years After the Voting Rights Act, Two Years After Shelby County

By Ana Choi

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, HLPR has published a new article in which Ryan P. Haygood exposes the damage caused by Shelby County in the past two years.

Fifty years ago today, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) was signed into law. The VRA was one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement, and for the next several decades, it played a crucial role in the fight against discrimination and the advancement of voting rights for minorities. Yet, in the 2013 case Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court halted and reversed the march of progress by striking down Section 4(b) of the VRA as unconstitutional. In doing so, the Supreme Court acted not only against its own precedent but also against the judgment of Congress—based on a vast and overwhelming amount of evidence—that the protection of the VRA was still needed. As can be seen in the 2014 HLPR articles by James Blacksher & Lani Guinier and Daniel P. Tokaji, academics and practitioners decried the Supreme Court’s decision and warned of the consequences that would follow. Sure enough, Shelby County gave free rein to states that had previously been restrained by the VRA, and many wasted no time in enacting discriminatory voting laws.

In his newly published HLPR article, Hurricane SCOTUS: The Hubris of Striking our Democracy’s Discrimination Checkpoint in Shelby County & the Resulting Thunderstorm Assault on Voting Rights, former Deputy Litigation Director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Ryan P. Haygood conducts a thorough, state-by-state survey of the effects of Shelby County and confirms the fears that arose in the immediate aftermath of the decision. In the two years since Shelby County, voting discrimination has rapidly resurged in many parts of the country, clearly establishing that any decrease in discriminatory measures since the passage of the VRA was evidence that the statute was working, not that it was no longer necessary. Haygood also writes about the origins and history of the VRA, providing a reminder of why the VRA was passed in the first place and how much progress it was able to produce before being crippled by Shelby County.

Despite the unfortunate setback dealt by Shelby County, the campaign to end voting discrimination must go on, and Haygood points the way forward in his article. He provides a concrete, multi-pronged strategy for remedying the negative effects of Shelby County and for ultimately achieving voter equality. In celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the VRA, there is no better way to pay homage than to ensure that the spirit of the VRA is carried forward through new ideas and solutions.

Read the full article here.

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