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Supreme Court strikes down key part of Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – A deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court stuck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act Tuesday.

The nation’s highest court ruled parts of the act unconstitutional, in effect, invalidating federal enforcement over all or parts of 15 states with past history of voter discrimination.

“Section 4’s formula is unconstitutional in light of current conditions,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.”

The court said it is now up to congressional lawmakers to revise the law to meet constitutional scrutiny.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to the current conditions,” Chief Justice John Roberts said for the 5-4 conservative majority.

Section 4 of the law was struck down, the coverage formula used by the federal government to determine which states and counties are subject to continued oversight.

Roberts said that formula from 1972 was outdated and unworkable.

The practical impact of the majority ruling means the separate Section 5, the key enforcement provision, cannot be enforced.

Any changes in voting laws and procedures in those covered states, including much of the South, must be “pre-cleared” with Washington.

That could include something as simple as moving a polling place temporarily across the street.

The two key provisions were reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for another 25 years and officials in Shelby County, Alabama, subsequently filed suit, saying the monitoring was overly burdensome and unwarranted.

“Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time but did not do so,” Roberts said. “Its failure leaves us today with no choice but to declare Section 4 unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to pre-clearance.”

The case is Shelby County, AL v. Holder (12-96).