This week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a request from Shelby County, Alabama for $2 million in attorney’s fees after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The plaintiff County’s request was made under a provision in the Voting Rights Act that permits fee requests to successful litigants in actions “enforc[ing] voting guarantees of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendments.” In its denial of the plaintiff’s request, the Court correctly noted that “[u]nfortunately for Shelby County, its lawsuit was about as far as possible from the lawsuit the drafters of [the Act’s fee-shifting provision] were hoping to incentivize.”
Shelby County’s “success,” as the Court noted, came at a high cost: rather than to enforce constitutional guarantees, the Alabama county’s challenge to Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act significantly undermined them — resulting in the loss of critical portions of the civil rights law which protected Black voters and other voters of color against impermissible and unconstitutional discrimination. For nearly 50 years, Sections 4 and 5 served as our democracy’s discrimination checkpoint by preventing racial discrimination in voting before such discriminatory laws were enforceable. Considering the substantial loss to voters of color, and to our nation’s democracy more broadly, the Court concluded that “[Shelby County’s] attorneys– not the American taxpayer — must foot the bill.”
In the wake of Shelby County, millions of voters around the country are left without these crucial protections. This is why it is vitally important that Congress passes the Voting Rights Amendment Act, an important first step toward restoring voting rights protections that were lost.