The Voting Rights Acts of 2014 and U.S. Court Decision in Shelby County

In this year 2015, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) was heralded as “the most effective civil rights law in the history of the United States,” Richard L. Engstrom, Race and Seven Politics, 10 ELECTION, L.J. 53, 53 (2011). The 50 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was made law was predated by many U.S. Congressional acts or attempts to enact protection of the voting rights of all American citizens. In fact, in 1870, Henry Cabot Lodge proposed a “Forced Bill,” a law that would reinforce an 1870 law that gave force to the federal government to make sure that all phases of registration and voting, particularly in Southern states, was protected. This bill passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. From that time, through the 1880s, right up to the present day and including 1965, the right to vote has been under attack or has been in some places limited by voter IDs and other state law measures to limit the number of poor, elderly, convicted felons and others from voting in local, state and national elections.

In the 2013 decision of Shelby County, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was weakened by a 5-4 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that held that Section 4 coverage formula was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court asserted that that section was not adequately grounded in “current conditions.” Shelby County, 133 S.Ct. at 26-29.

Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court, in limiting the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, did so even though Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Acts in 2006 by overwhelming votes in both the U.S. House and the Senate. There were reports that Congress reviewed 15,000 pages of evidence showing persistent discrimination in voting in the 9 southern states of jurisdictions that were covered under the Act.

The way the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) worked is that it covered jurisdictions that were required to prove to the U.S. Attorney General or a 3-judge court in the District of Columbia that any law that would change the way voters can be registered and allowed to vote would not have the effect of discrimination on the basis of race, language or minority status. This provision of the VRA was so successful that Congress regularly and systematically reauthorized the practice. In fact, since 1965, it was reauthorized four times including its most recent reauthorization in 2006.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby dealt with the Section 4 coverage formula only. Left in place was Section 5, which contains the pre-clearance requirement.

Since the Supreme Court decision in 2013, the 2014 Congress presented a joint, bipartisan bill amending the Voting Rights Act that would fill the hole that the Shelby County case opened. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced on Jan. 16, 2014. After being referred to a House rules committee it died in the previous session of Congress.

The 2014 Amendment to the Voting Rights Act would have amended Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act to permit a federal court to use its discretion to order a pre-clearance remedy if it were to find a violation of the VRA, including a violation based on a finding of discriminatory intent or result.

In addition, the amendment would have enhanced the ability of voters to obtain preliminary injunctive relief when challenging certain types of voting changes that are likely to be discriminatory.

Since this bill remains dormant, it is hopeful that the new Congress would reintroduce the bill or a similar bill that would pass both houses of Congress and become law. Since the end of the Civil War, which supposedly was fought to end slavery and race discrimination, the issue of race discrimination continues to this very day, particularly in the right to vote. It was thought that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would have taken care of these rights as well as the 15th Amendment which guaranteed the right to vote to those freed American slaves and to all citizens.

Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, automobile and truck accidents cases, railroad accident cases, medical malpractice cases and nursing home negligence cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Morton Grove, Arlington Heights, Naperville, Glenview, Hinsdale, Evanston, Wilmette, Skokie and River Grove, Ill.

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