The Shelby County decision
On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to use the
coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are
subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder,
133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013). The Supreme Court did not rule on the
constitutionality of Section 5 itself. The effect of the Shelby County decision is that the
jurisdictions identified by the coverage formula in Section 4(b) no longer need to seek preclearance
for the new voting changes, unless they are covered by a separate court order entered under Section 3(c) of
the Voting Rights Act.
Submitting Voting Changes for Review
The proper format for submissions as well as all other correspondence
concerning the Attorney General's review of changes affecting voting is set forth at 28 C.F.R.
Sending Mail to the Voting Section
Please note, the Voting Section's postal address
(P.O. Box 66128, Washington DC 20035) is no longer in effect.
United States Postal Service mail including certified mail and express mail should be addressed to:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 - NWB
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20530
Deliveries by overnight express services such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS
should be addressed to:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 - NWB
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
If you are submitting a voting change for review, please make sure that
the front of the envelope identifies it as a submission and that your return address is clearly indicated.
How the Attorney General Reviews Submissions
The Attorney General's authority to review submissions of changes affecting voting under Section 5
and Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act has been delegated to the Assistant Attorney General for the
Civil Rights Division. All decisions to interpose an objection or to withdraw an objection previously
interposed, and all substantive decisions on state-wide legislative redistricting plans are made by
the Assistant Attorney General. For other types of submissions the Assistant Attorney General's authority
has been delegated to the Chief of the Voting Section.
Upon receipt of a submission, the Department assigns one or more staff members to analyze the proposed
voting change. The nature and extent of that analysis will vary, depending upon the change itself and the
surrounding circumstances. It often involves telephone interviews with persons representing or associated
with the submitting authority, and with private citizens, particularly members of racial or language minority
groups. Communications from the public regarding pending submissions are encouraged, and all information or
comments received are considered. As part of that analysis, the Department may also examine submissions as
well as information available from the United States Census Bureau, the Internet, or other sources.
While every effort is made to complete the analysis so that a determination is made before
the end of the 60-day review period, the factual and legal issues presented by a particular
submission may be such that the information initially provided by the submitting authority
considered together with the information obtained during our investigation is still insufficient
to enable the Attorney General to make a determination that the proposed change does not have the
purpose and will not have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in
a language minority group. While the Voting Rights Act authorizes the Attorney General to object to
the submitted change on that basis, it is the Attorney General's general practice in such circumstances
to request additional information, in writing, from the jurisdiction. Upon receipt of a complete
response to the request for additional information, a new 60-day period begins for the Attorney General
to make the requisite determination.
The Procedures for Making a Submission
The administrative review process for voting changes is designed to be an expeditious, cost-effective
alternative to litigation.
Central to the effective functioning of the administrative review option are the
"Part 51 Procedures" originally adopted by the Department of Justice in 1971 and
modified in light of experience and legal developments on several occasions since then. Known
formally as Procedures
for the Administration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as Amended,; they are
codified as Part 51 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Particular Issues About Making Submissions
The Procedures are written in easy to understand language. However, some
specific issues discussed in the Procedures are mentioned below.
First, a voting change must be submitted in written form to begin the review process.
While no specific format is required, the submission ordinarily should include the required
contents set forth in 28 C.F.R. 51.27 and the supplemental contents, as appropriate.
Providing such information in the original submission usually will reduce significantly
the need for the Attorney General to contact the submitting official by telephone, and
thus increase the likelihood of an early determination on the submission.
Second, a voting change must be procedurally appropriate for review on the merits. The Procedures
discuss the types of circumstances that prevent the Attorney General from reviewing a submitted change on the merits.
- The Attorney General will reject a submission that fails to provide documents or a narrative "adequate to
disclose to the Attorney General the difference between the prior and proposed situation with respect to voting." 28 C.F.R. 51.26(d), 51.27(a)-(c) and 51.35.
- The Attorney General will make no determination regarding a voting change which has not been
finally adopted. The Attorney General may nevertheless make a substantive determination with regard
to a change for which approval by referendum or by a state or federal court or a federal agency is
required if the change is not subject to alteration in the final approving action and all other action
necessary for approval has been taken. 28 C.F.R. 51.22.
- The Attorney General will make no determination regarding a voting change that is directly
related to another known covered voting change that has has been already reviewed or submitted
for review. For example, the Attorney General will not review a districting plan if it is
prompted by an unsubmitted change in the method of electing the jurisdiction's governing body,
change in the number of elected officials, or annexations. Similarly, no determination will be
made regarding an annexation if other unprecleared boundary changes in that jurisdiction have
In addition, new redistricting plans themselves often require that other voting changes
be made, such as changes affecting voting precincts, polling places, and absentee voting locations.
If these changes have been finalized, the jurisdiction should submit them for administrative review
with its redistricting submission. The related voting change need not have been adopted by the
jurisdiction making the original submission. For example, state legislation authorizing political
subdivisions to adopt voting changes ("enabling legislation") requires review. A political
subdivision's implementation of the enabled change will not be reviewed if
the enabling legislation has not been submitted for review or already reviewed.
Clearly, it is in the covered jurisdiction's interest to submit a voting change as soon as
possible after it has been finally adopted, even if its implementation
may be many months away (for example, in the next general election). To the extent procedural
or substantive issues prevent a determination on the merits occurring within the initial 60-day
review period, a prompt submission may allow a sufficient opportunity to resolve such issues in
time for the practice (or a revised one) to be implemented as originally anticipated.