Eight Years in a Rainstorm, Without an Umbrella: Reflecting on the Shelby Decision and Its Impact
Today marks the eighth anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, when Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and essentially challenged Congress to take action to restore Americans’ freedom to vote.
In a fiery dissent, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that Roberts’ decision to gut the VRA “when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
It’s been nearly a decade since the Shelby ruling, and as we check out the forecast across the country—it looks like voters are still getting soaked.
- Voting rights opponents in the Senate have blocked every attempt to protect our freedom to vote.
- Meanwhile, state lawmakers have been busy, erecting deliberate barriers to vote and drawing district lines to divide us.
- Lastly, we await a new Supreme Court ruling in Brnovich vs. Democratic National Committee, which could further undermine the Voting Rights Act if a majority decides to uphold Arizona policies that make it harder for Black, Brown, and Native Americans to vote.
That decision could make it nearly impossible for Americans caught in a deluge to obtain an umbrella at any price!
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Throughout our nation’s history, we’ve had to fight to ensure Americans have our right to vote honored and that every eligible American is able to cast a ballot and have that ballot be counted. The Voting Rights Act—inspired by the tireless work of the civil rights movement—was an essential part of that effort.
With the Shelby v. Holder decision, the conservative majority on the Court gave a green light to extremist politicians to pursue their anti-voter policies. They’re trying to put up barriers to silence our voices based on what we look like or where we live. This is precisely what Justice Ginsburg warned against in her dissent years ago.
How do we fight back?
First, we must keep pushing for pro-voter policies—which are, coincidentally, enormously popular. A recent Navigator poll found that at least three out of four Americans support the following:
- Ensuring that early voting is equally accessible in every state;
- Enabling voters in every state to vote by mail;
- Letting voters pick our leaders—rather than politicians picking their voters—by having independent commissions draw congressional district lines.
Secondly, we must fight for fair courts that will help make the promise of democracy real for us all. In the wake of the Shelby ruling, it’s clear that judicial independence is essential for protecting our freedom to vote.
Finally, we need strong protections in our democracy, so every voter’s voice is heard and every voice counts equally. That way we can all have an equal say over things like pandemic relief and jobs. Otherwise, big money yells the loudest, sets the agenda, and rigs the rules in their favor. Wealthy special interests are dumping millions into dark-money groups to try to buy our elections and take away our freedom to vote, through legislation and the courts. Voters have the right to know who is spending big money to influence our elected officials and our laws.
ReThink Media is proud to support our Voting Rights, Fair Courts, and Money in Politics partners in this vital work.
Over the years, we’ve traveled across the country, training hundreds of local voting rights advocates to become spokespeople for their organizations and communities, provided them with messaging that shifts public opinion in favor of pro-voter policies, and worked one-on-one with local organizers to ensure their voices are heard—by lawmakers, by their community members, in the news media, and on social media.
During the pandemic, we’ve adapted to our current remote reality and provided skills and messaging webinars to grassroots activists on the ground, as well as in-depth spokesperson trainings for voting rights advocates at the state and national level. We’re gearing up to conduct another spokesperson training series with fair courts advocates this fall.
This is a critical moment for our country, and ReThink is working across the democracy movement to ensure our freedom to vote.