State’s Rights, Last Rites, and Voting Rights

Guy-Uriel E. Charles & Luis E. Fuentes-Rohwer, State’s Rights, Last Rites, and Voting Rights (2014) (forthcoming Nw. Univ. L. Rev.), available at

Abstract:  There are two ways to read the Court’s decision in Shelby County, as a minimalist decision and as a decision that has undermined the basic infrastructure of voting rights policy, law, and jurisprudence. In this Essay, we present the case for reading Shelby County as deeply destabilizing. We argue that Shelby County has undermined three assumptions that are foundational to voting rights policy, law, and jurisprudence. First, the Court has generally granted primacy of the federal government over the states. Second, the Court has deferred to Congress particularly where Congress is regulating at the intersection of race and voting. Third, the Court and Congress have understood that racial discrimination is the problem and have operated from a similar conception of what racial discrimination means. Shelby County undermines all three assumptions. We explore what this means for voting rights policy, law, and jurisprudence going forward.

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