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Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Abstract

- 188 - Shelby County v. Holder: Nullification, Racial Entitlement, and the Civil Rights Counterrevolution Albert L. Samuels Southern University The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) which invalidated the “coverage formula” of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 bears an eerie resemblance to the spirit of the Civil Rights Cases (1883). In a tone similar to the one exhibited by the Supreme Court in The Civil Rights Cases, Chief Justice Roberts cited progress achieved in electoral participation and office holding by African Americans as evidence that the special protections that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 affords to Blacks are no longer needed. With the use of similar arguments, the Supreme Court has limited both the reach and effectiveness of school desegregation, employment and housing discrimination laws, and affirmative action. This article conceives of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder as an illustration of the doctrine of nullification – an ideology that states have the right of declaring federal statutes and constitutional amendments “null and void” despite the fact that these enactments are technically the “supreme law of the land.” Using Shelby County as a case study, this article argues that nullification is the “norm,” not the exception, when it comes to America’s treatment of African Americans.

 

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