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Voting Rights Act To Go Before Supreme Court

Act requires federal oversight in some states before voting laws changed

Common Dreams staff

(Photo: Getty Images.)

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it would decide whether an historic portion of the Voting Rights Act protecting against racial discrimination is constitutional.

Section 5 of the act, passed in 1965, requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing any voting laws.

Nine states and parts of seven others are required to obtain the approval.

Robert Barnes of The Washington Post reports:

The Section 5 requirements were passed during the darkest days of the civil rights struggle, paving the way for expanded voting rights for African Americans and greatly increasing the number of minority officeholders.

The court will hear an appeal of a case from Shelby County, Alabama, the Associated Press reports, that argues that state and local governments subject to the law have made significant progress and no longer require oversight.

But in 2009, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. "sidestepped" the question as "a difficult constitutional issue, according to the AP.

Last spring, Judge David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that there was no reason to reassess the law.

The law has been challenged by Conservative and Republicans in some of the affected states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, according to the Washington Post.

During his campaign this year, the Obama administration turned to Section 5 to challenge restrictions on voting, and was largely successful.

Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project today urged the Supreme Court to uphold the law as an essential civil rights safeguard:

As we have seen in a number of states this year, efforts to enact voting laws that target people of color and other groups are unfortunately far too common. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act helps eliminate such discriminatory and harmful practices. We hope the Supreme Court will recognize the vital role this civil rights-era law plays in protecting the fundamental right to vote and ensuring equal access to voting.

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