The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered the crown jewel of the civil rights movement, perhaps the most important and effective civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress, according to many scholars and others. In Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, a key provision in the act faces a constitutional challenge carefully manufactured and funded by a leading opponent of racial classifications, Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation.

The target of the challenge is Section 5, which requires so-called covered jurisdictions — states or parts of states with histories of voting discrimination — to get preclearance, or approval, of any changes in their voting practices or policies from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court in Washington.

Shelby County, represented by Bert Rein of Wiley Rein, argues that Congress reauthorized Section 5 in 2006 under an outdated and intrusive coverage formula (Section 4(b)), exceeded its authority under the 14th and 15th amendments, and thus violated the 10th Amendment and Article IV of the Constitution. The United States and individual intervenors represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union counter that Congress found substantial evidence of current discrimination in the covered jurisdictions (nine states and local units in seven other states). The act’s other provisions allowing covered jurisdictions to "bail out" if they show clean voting records after 10 years and "bail in" by newly offending jurisdictions keep Section 5 narrowly tailored and relevant, according to the United States and the intervening defendants.

The Supreme Court in its 2009 decision in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder questioned, but did not decide, the constitutionality of Section 5 and the relevance of the coverage formula. The stakes now are exceptionally high as seen by the nearly four dozen amicus briefs filed in the case. Supreme Court Brief today takes a look at the key arguments made in those briefs as Rein, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and the NAACP LDF’s Debo Adegbile prepare for oral arguments on Wednesday, February 27. – Marcia Coyle

Briefs supporting Section 5 point to substantial evidence on which Congress relied
By Marcia Coyle
More than two dozen amicus briefs have been filed on the side of the United States and the defendant intervenors in an organized and thorough effort to refute the main arguments against the constitutionality of Section 5 in a case involving the Shelby County, Ala., city council election.

Amicus opponents of Section 5 attack on several fronts
By Tony Mauro
The 20-plus briefs supporting Shelby County seem aimed in part at getting the court angry enough at Congress and the Obama administration that it will feel more comfortable about invalidating a law which, as defenders of the law point out frequently, was renewed by an overwhelming congressional vote as recently as 2006.