Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general have launched a series of lawsuits meant to challenge the most muscular provision of the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 before a Supreme Court that has signaled it is suspicious of its constitutionality. Working their way to the high court are lawsuits from Arizona to North Carolina, challenging Section 5 of the historic civil rights act. The provision requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval of any changes in their voting laws. The combination of skeptical justices and an increasingly partisan political environment has led some experts to predict that the end is near for that requirement, which civil rights groups have called the most effective weapon for eliminating voting discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s recent actions “have indicated that Section 5 is living on borrowed time,” Columbia University law professor Nathaniel Persily told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week. “Assuming the personnel on the court remains constant, the question is not whether the court will declare Section 5 unconstitutional, but when and how.”
The lawsuits are defending redistricting and a variety of new laws and electoral changes — including controversial requirements that voters show IDs at the polls — that Democrats and minorities charge will dilute minority rights. The Supreme Court, in a 2009 ruling and again last month, expressed concern about “serious constitutional questions raised by Section 5’s intrusion on state sovereignty.”