This is part of the Reuters series on the future of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5, which the Supreme Court may strike down this year. You can read other pieces in the series here.
There are deep ironies in the current case against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Before a 5-4 Republican majority of the Supreme Court opens the door to stronger voter suppression laws by overturning it in Shelby County v. Holder, the justices ‑ and the informed public ‑ should consider how effective Section 5 has been. Highly unusual political conditions made the act’s passage and renewals possible, and there would be almost insuperable difficulty in replacing it now that those conditions have changed.
Since 2009, I have been compiling a comprehensive list of voting rights incidents. (I have also served as an expert witness in such voting rights cases as those challenging the 2011 Texas redistricting laws.) The list now has 4,141 incidents: legal cases brought under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; legal cases brought under Section 5 of the act; objections by the Justice Department under Section 5 and “more information requests” issued by the department as part of the Section 5 process, if they resulted in pro-minority changes in election laws; and 14th Amendment cases.
Unpublished, as well as published, cases are included in the statistics below only if they resulted in changes in the election laws that helped minorities. Some are recorded in printed opinions, but many resulted in informal or court-approved settlements. In other instances, merely filing a lawsuit led to the changes in election laws that minority plaintiffs sought. This is a far larger number of incidents than in any database referred to in the Shelby County briefs.
What do these numbers reveal about the central issue that the Supreme Court asked the parties in Shelby County to address: the adequacy of the Section 5 coverage scheme. Section 5 mandates that certain states, counties or townships are barred from changing election laws without the approval of the Justice Department or the District Court of the District of Columbia.