Law & Courts

Inside a Key Voting-Rights Precedent Affecting School Boards

By Mark Walsh — December 12, 2017 2 min read

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, meaning that school boards and other local and state governments in areas with a history of discrimination in election matters no longer had to win federal approval for any “change in voting.”

Writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that nearly 50 years after the adoption of the Voting Rights Act, “things have changed dramatically. ... Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

The court did not completely strike down Section 5 of the law, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting practices to get approval for any change in voting from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court in Washington. Section 5 covers nine states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—as well as certain jurisdictions in several other states, including California and North Carolina.

Instead, the court invalidated the formulas used to define which jurisdictions were covered by Section 5 of the voting rights law, which Congress had renewed in 2006.

“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” the chief justice added. “It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

Writing for the dissenters, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that even though minority registration and voting had increased in the Section 5 jurisdictions, covered states and local governments turned to racial gerrymandering, discriminatory annexations, and switches from single-member electoral districts to at-large membership to keep minority representation down.

“The evidence was indeed sufficient to support Congress’ conclusion that racial discrimination in voting in covered jurisdictions remained serious and pervasive,” Ginsburg wrote. “Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today.”

The record in the case was full of examples where the Justice Department or the federal court had rejected changes in school district redistricting maps and to at-large board membership. Since the Shelby County decision, any school district in a covered jurisdiction has not had to submit such changes for federal approval.

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2017 edition of Education Week as Inside a Key Voting-Rights Precedent


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Appeals Court Weighs Idaho Law Barring Transgender Female Students From Girls' Sports
The three-judge federal court panel reviews a lower-court ruling that blocked the controversial statute and said it was likely unconstitutional.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Weigh When School Board Censure of a Member Violates the First Amendment
The justices will decide an issue that has become more salient as a few board members rant inappropriately on social media.
5 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.