Civil and Human Rights

Top US court to examine minority voting rights

WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court decided to take up the issue of voting rights for minorities, a group that has historically faced discrimination at the polls.


Just three days after the country’s presidential election, the panel on Friday announced it had agreed to consider a legal challenge to a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits all racial discrimination at the polls.


The part to be reviewed is Section 5, which requires federal approval of any changes to election laws in nine states, as well as counties in seven others, mostly located in the southern United States and known for their segregationist past.


It was due to the Voting Rights Act that Texas, for example, saw its redistricting efforts and law requiring voters to show photo identification deemed discriminatory by a Washington court of appeals.


Several of the states in question have fought the provision in court.


In this particular case, the US Supreme Court will hear an appeal from a county in the southern state of Alabama — whose population of 200,000 is 83 percent white — that wants Section 5 to be cut from the law in its present form.


In its complaint, it argues that President Barack Obama’s administration has defended the application of this provision in a more stringent way than in times past.


The Supreme Court agreed to take up the matter but will only look into whether Congress, by prolonging the application of Section 5 by 25 years in 2006, went beyond its powers and violated the constitution.


The top court was careful not to take up the issue until after this week’s presidential poll, in which minorities played an important role in re-electing Obama for a second term.


The Supreme Court did not say whether it would take up another, similar issue related to the state of North Carolina that had previously been submitted to the court. Following its defeat in lower courts, Texas is also expected to file an appeal.


The Constitutional Accountability Center called the Voting Rights Act an “iconic civil rights statute.”


“If the experience over the last 12 months proves anything, it’s that the Voting Rights Act is as vital today as it was in 1965 when originally passed,” it said in a statement.


“Hopefully, the proven success of the act and the powerful opinions written by lower court judges from across the ideological spectrum applying it will convince a majority on the Court to affirm rather than undermine the vital constitutionality of the act.”


Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, called the decision to review the act’s constitutionality a “huge step in the wrong direction.”


“The Voting Rights Act is an essential part of American democracy,” she said in a statement. “The thought that the Supreme Court might overrule Congress and take away voting rights should send a chill down the spine of every American.”

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