For more than four decades, the Voting Rights Act never lost a court decision as it cut a path for minorities’ increased participation in elections. But the most effective civil rights law in U.S. history faces its most serious challenge as the Supreme Court prepares to re-examine its constitutionality. Why now? Some say it’s because of the law’s own success. The plaintiff in the case blames Congress for failing to amend part of the legislation to reflect changing times.
Enacted in 1965, the law relies on a key provision requiring jurisdictions with a discriminatory history to get approval from the federal government before changing their election procedures. The “preclearance” requirement, in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, covers nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of several other states.
This year, courts used the preclearance provision to block voter identification requirements and other rule changes leading up to the recent election.
The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County, Ala., says it should be released from the preclearance requirement because it no longer engages in voter discrimination. Shelby County argues that the mandate is unconstitutional because it’s outdated and unfairly holds the county to a higher standard than the rest of the nation.