February 27, 2013

Supreme Court justices voice skepticism of voting rights law

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 2)

The prior approval requirement played a major role last year in blocking or delaying voting laws in South Carolina and Texas.

Federal judges in Washington refused to sign off on two separate Texas plans to institute a tough photo identification law for voters and redistricting plans for the state's congressional delegation and Legislature. Also, South Carolina's plan to put in place its own voter ID law was delayed beyond the 2012 election and then allowed to take effect only after the state carved out an exception for some people who lack photo identification.

Those episodes were not discussed Wednesday, although they are part of the voluminous written filings in the case.

Instead, the bulk of the discussion concerned Congress' actions in 2006, when overwhelming majorities in the Republican-led Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension of the prior-approval measure, which was first adopted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Scalia pointed to the lopsided vote as a reason to question its legitimacy, even though as Kagan said, every senator in states covered by the law voted for it. Perhaps, he said, they decided "they'd better not vote against it, that there's nothing, that there's none of their interests in voting against it."

Later, Scalia said he worries that the provision will never fade away because members of Congress would be reluctant to risk a vote against it. "It's a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress," he said.

Scalia capped his comment with this observation: "Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?"

A decision is expected by late June.

The case is Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder, 12-96.

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