Kousser on Shelby County

Must-read Morgan Kousser post as part of Reuters Shelby County symposium:

Since 2009, I have been compiling a comprehensive list of voting rights incidents. (I have also served as an expert witness in such voting rights cases as those challenging the 2011 Texas redistricting laws.) The list now has 4,141 incidents: legal cases brought under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; legal cases brought under Section 5 of the act; objections by the Justice Department under Section 5 and “more information requests” issued by the department as part of the Section 5 process, if they resulted in pro-minority changes in election laws; and 14th Amendment cases.

Unpublished, as well as published, cases are included in the statistics below only if they resulted in changes in the election laws that helped minorities. Some are recorded in printed opinions, but many resulted in informal or court-approved settlements. In other instances, merely filing a lawsuit led to the changes in election laws that minority plaintiffs sought. This is a far larger number of incidents than in any database referred to in the Shelby County briefs.

What do these numbers reveal about the central issue that the Supreme Court asked the parties in Shelby County to address: the adequacy of the Section 5 coverage scheme. Section 5 mandates that certain states, counties or townships are barred from changing election laws without the approval of the Justice Department or the District Court of the District of Columbia.

First, 90 percent of the 4,141 incidents and 93.4 percent of the 3,775 “successful” incidents – those that resulted in changes to election law that advanced minorities’ voting rights – took place in the jurisdictions covered by Section 5. This may not be surprising, since 2,368 of the incidents were Section 5 objections or enforcement actions, or “more information” requests. These, by definition, can take place only in covered jurisdictions.

More instructive is the portion of the 1,256 successful Section 2 cases that arose in jurisdictions subject to oversight: 83.3 percent. Section 2 cases can be filed anywhere in the country. The number of successful Section 2 cases is far larger than that in the much-cited database compiled by Ellen Katz, a law professor at of the University of Michigan (which is subsumed in my list), and the proportion from covered jurisdictions is considerably higher than Katz found in published cases. This is because I included many unpublished cases that resulted in settlements, either in-court or out-of-court.

And don’t miss the important graphic.

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