The Voting Rights Act and Shelby County v. Holder: An Examination of Federalism and Reconstruction




Marchese, David

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The Fifteenth Amendment ratified during Reconstruction ensured that no man would be denied equal access to the ballot based on the color of his skin. Although it took nearly a century to realize the full mandates of Reconstruction, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put the nation towards a path of a great experiment—multiracial democracy. The Act signified a federal government committed to an inclusive democracy. Intact for forty-eight years, the VRA made impressive gains in combatting laws and procedures that sought to disenfranchise or dilute the minority vote with incredible variety and persistence. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder the VRA’s coverage formula to be unconstitutional. This thesis evaluates the problems with the Court’s ruling and argues for an intact, undiminished VRA. The first chapter describes the history and inception of the VRA, as well as the pertinent provisions of the Act and majority and dissenting opinions in Shelby County. The second chapter explores the relationship of federalism to the Reconstruction Amendments and argues that deference is owed to Congress in enacting this legislation. The third chapter explores two constitutional standards the Court could have observed when determining the Act’s constitutionality. Finally, the fourth chapter seeks to address voting barriers enacted post-Shelby. Ultimately, this thesis argues that in light of the current conditions, Congress was right to reauthorize the VRA in 2006 based on a pattern of ongoing discrimination that remained concentrated in the areas covered by the coverage formula. The evidence shows that the coverage formula captures those areas with the most voting discrimination and is as well tailored as a nationwide regulatory scheme could be.



Constitutional Law, Voting Rights, Supreme Court