June 25, 2013

Supreme Court voids key part of Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 vote, deeply divided justices said that the law relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress in the U.S.

The Associated Press

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Ginsburg said the law continues to be necessary to protect against what she called subtler, "second-generation" barriers to voting. She identified one such effort as the switch to at-large voting from a district-by-district approach in a city with a sizable black minority. The at-large system allows the majority to "control the election of each city council member, effectively eliminating the potency of the minority's votes," she said.

Justice Clarence Thomas was part of the majority, but wrote separately to say anew that he would have struck down the advance approval requirement itself.

Civil rights lawyers condemned the ruling.

"The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation's most important and effective civil rights laws. Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The decision comes five months after Obama started his second term in the White House, re-elected by a diverse coalition of voters.

The high court is in the midst of a broad re-examination of the ongoing necessity of laws and programs aimed at giving racial minorities access to major areas of American life from which they once were excluded. The justices issued a modest ruling Monday that preserved affirmative action in higher education and will take on cases dealing with anti-discrimination sections of a federal housing law and another affirmative action case from Michigan next term.

The Alabama county's lawsuit acknowledged that the measure's strong medicine was appropriate and necessary to counteract decades of state-sponsored discrimination in voting, despite the Fifteenth Amendment's guarantee of the vote for black Americans.

But it asked whether there was any end in sight for a provision that intrudes on states' rights to conduct elections and was considered an emergency response when first enacted in 1965.

The county noted that the 25-year extension approved in 2006 would keep some places under Washington's oversight until 2031. And, the county said, it seemed not to account for changes that include the elimination of racial disparity in voter registration and turnout or the existence of allegations of race-based discrimination in voting in areas of the country that are not subject to the provision.

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