Supreme Court to Re-examine Voting Rights Law

November 11, 2012
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President Lyndon B. Johnson hands Rev. Martin Luther King a pen that he used to sign the Voting Rights Act (1965).

Barack Obama was re-elected President of the United States earlier this week.  Many believe that his strong support among African-Americans and Latinos were instrumental in his win.  But on Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that challenges Congress’s power to protect minority voters in states with a history of racial bias.  Originally passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed discriminatory voting practices.  In addition, it required that certain states obtain pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making any changes that affect voting.  This latter issue, called Section 5, has been debated previously.  The law has been renewed four times, most recently in 2006, when Congress extended it for another 25 years. Three years ago, the Court faced a similar challenge to Section 5, upholding the law, but encouraging Congress to make changes in its details that were more consistent with contemporary America.  Congress made no such changes.  Now, Shelby County, Alabama, is claiming that they have made significant progress over the last four decades and should not still be under the watchful eye of the federal government.  The data used to determine which states are subject to pre-clearance is more than 35 years old.  Three years ago, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the “historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act,” but also added that “things have changed in the South.”  Shelby County v. Holder should be decided by June.

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