The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) applauds the United States Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal of Shelby County, Alabama, which was seeking millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees for its litigation of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case where the Supreme Court declared that Section 4 of the Voting Right Act (VRA)—the provision determining which jurisdictions would be required to obtain federal review of proposed voting changes before those changes could take effect—was unconstitutional. Two lower federal courts, including the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, have already denied the County’s fee request, declaring that, “…[u]nfortunately for Shelby County, its lawsuit was about as far as possible from the lawsuit the drafters of [the Voting Rights Act’s fee-shifting provision] were hoping to incentivize.”
Today, the Supreme Court correctly decided that taxpayers of the United States should not be made to foot the bill for Shelby County’s lawsuit. The VRA’s fee-shifting provision was intended to encourage those seeking to enforce its guarantee of voting laws free from racial discrimination, rather than to reward those seeking to undermine those very protections. Shelby County’s lawsuit clearly did not qualify for such fees because it weakened protections for voters of color and, thereby, weakened the nation’s democracy more generally. Because of Shelby County’s lawsuit, states and municipalities with persistent histories of racial discrimination in voting can now make changes to their voting laws—including changes that impose significant burdens on communities of color—with no prior federal review. Before the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision, the VRA required federal review and approval for changes to voting rights law in these states and municipalities.
When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case in 2013, LDF argued that all provisions of the VRA remain relevant and necessary to our democracy. Since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision, voters of color in jurisdictions that had been covered by Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA are more vulnerable to changes in voting laws that have adverse and disfranchising effects in their communities. LDF attorneys have been closely monitoring and challenging these new laws in formerly-covered jurisdictions including in Alabama and Texas.