Shelby County: Voting Discrimination and its Constitutional Considerations
Racism has been perpetuated in America since slavery. Central to this notion is the United States’ history of racism perpetuated via its political system which subjected minorities - African-Americans in particular - to the oppressive wrath of governmental policies for centuries. As the country grew more intolerant of slavery, the Civil War lead to the Reconstruction Amendments which abolished slavery and intended to give African-Americans an opportunity to exercise new civil and political rights. The opponents of Reconstruction, particularly from the Deep South, were ideologically opposed to these changes and sought to encumber blacks by targeting their right to the franchise. Racial discrimination in politics took the guise of literacy tests and other excessive measures. The era of postbellum segregation and racially discriminatory legislation ensured that blacks and other minorities would not be given the equal treatment they had been denied since slavery. Slavery was over, but racism persisted. By the hands of southern state legislatures, discrimination evolved, as African-Americans would face extensive impediments in exercising their right to vote for over a century. But as the mid-20th Century Civil Rights Movement gained steam, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 with the hope of finally putting an end to this effective discrimination. The most polarizing facet of the VRA was the section 5 “preclearance” provision because it treated states differently; it was buttressed by the section 4 “coverage formula” which designated which states would be subject to this differential treatment; while the section 3 provisions established a constitutional safety valve emboldening the more vulnerable facets of the legislation. The VRA was momentous in reducing voting rights infringement aimed at minorities. Yet today, that legislation is no more. The Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) provides a simplistic appraisal of the VRA. Exhibiting dubious jurisprudence illuminated through examination of an earlier case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder (2009), Robert’s opinion undermines the values personified by the Reconstruction Amendments and leaves the nation’s protection of the franchise more vulnerable to backsliding than it has been for decades.