By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider a challenge to the
landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which could result in less federal
oversight of the racial impact of state and local election laws.
The high court accepted the case of Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder,
in which the Alabama municipality sought to change its voting laws
without federal review. For decades, the law's key provision has
prevented states and municipalities with a history of racial
discrimination from changing their election laws unilaterally.
oversight has existed for 47 years, since the heyday of the civil
rights era. Under Section 5 of the law, nine states and municipalities
in seven others are barred from changing their voting procedures without
approval from the Justice Department or a special federal court. That
has helped minorities to vote and to win elections.?
agreed to consider Congress' 2006 reauthorization of the landmark civil
rights law for another 25 years. A decision by the conservative-leaning
court could force Congress to reconsider its actions, rather than
effectively knocking down the law's key provision. But it also could
strike a major blow to one of the civil rights era's most important
Opponents consider the law anachronistic and an
infringement on states' rights. Shelby County's brief cites "the
practical effect of Section 5's severe federalism burdens, as well as
the disparate treatment of covered and non-covered states under the
statute's selective and outdated coverage formula."
the law argue that federal review safeguards the civil rights of racial
minorities. Civil rights groups say the need for federal oversight in
those mostly Southern states, from Virginia to Texas, was evident even
in recent months, when South Carolina and Texas sought to tighten photo
ID requirements and Florida sought to restrict early voting.
substantial evidence of intentional racial discrimination in the record
is particularly significant," several civil rights groups argue in a
brief. "Between 1980 and 2004, the attorney general issued at least 423
objections based in whole or in part on discriminatory purpose."
Greenbaum, who wrote that brief for the Lawyers Committee for Civil
Rights Under Law and other groups, said the coalition wasn't surprised
the court decided to take the case.
"We're prepared, and we're
confident, and we think the recent cases demonstrate the continued
constitutionality of Section 5," he said.
The case is likely to be
scheduled for late winter or spring, and there should be a decision
before the court's term ends in June.