From his comfortable law offices, Ellis was persuaded to bring this legal fight because of what he says is a fundamental question of inequality in the Section 5 regulatory scheme.
"Over the years we realized that this burden was unfair and unjustified," he said. "We just elected a black member of the Board of Education, with a 90-percent white population. We've elected a black mayor over a white incumbent, we've elected black city council members."
Many neighborhoods, he says, are integrated.
The dispute in Calera
Ellis acknowledges a voting dispute in the city of Calera was not handled well by local officials, but chafes at the assumption things are irreparably bad in Shelby. He says it is especially hard to disprove a negative -- a pervasive racial bias that he is certain does not currently exist among the county power structure.
"The South has changed, it is not the same it was in 1964," said Ellis. "The whole country has changed, we are a dynamic society, not just in Alabama, but everywhere."
Some have called it a Scarlet Letter or badge of shame mostly Southern states must perpetually endure.
Racism, in the minds of many African-Americans and Hispanics in the county, is subtle and deep-rooted. A "good ol' boy" system, as Jones puts it.
He and other civil rights activists point to the 2008 election in Calera, where only one African-American was serving, Ernest Montgomery.
The city, over the objections of the Justice Department under its Section 5 authority, changed the voting boundaries and cost Montgomery his seat. He believes it was an effort to weaken minority voting strength.
"Some sub developments were added to my district and diluted the African-American district from a 67 percent district, down to about 28 percent," Montgomery told CNN. "I think of the possibility of what could happen if Section 5 could go away -- that some of the old mindsets would kind of fall back into place."
After the feds intervened, a new election was held and Montgomery got his seat back, which he holds today.
The government points out that states have gotten out of Section 5. In recent years, 31 cities and counties and Virginia successfully petitioned to be exempt from the pre-clearance requirements, though the rest of the state remains under federal oversight.
Shelby County has not made such a request and opposes Section 5 on its face.
'Serious constitutional questions'
The Justice Department also said the Supreme Court had, in recent years, narrowed the scope of some aspects of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could prove a swing vote in the Alabama dispute, noted in an earlier unrelated case involving Section 5 that "racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history."
But it may be Chief Justice John Roberts who would exercise the power to lead the tricky but crucial opinion-writing exercise in coming weeks.
That is because he authored that 2009 high court ruling, suggesting Section 5's days were numbered.
He said the pre-clearance provision raised "serious constitutional questions," and added it "represents an intrusion into areas of state and local responsibility that is unfamiliar to our federal system."
"Things have changed in the South. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity," said Roberts, echoing the views Shelby County now makes in its appeal. "Past success alone, however is not adequate justification to retain the pre-clearance requirements."
The court for three years avoided the key question over the law's constitutionality.
Civil rights supporters worry the court's five conservative members will strike down this and another separate, pending appeal over affirmative action in public college admissions.
Any dispute about voting slips inevitably into politics and efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to preserve their power base.
Section 5 lawsuits have been acute in the past two years. They involve challenges to constitutionally mandated boundary changes in state and congressional districts based on the 2010 census, new, stricter voter identification requirements, and reductions in early voting periods.