The Supreme Court this week will take up a potentially landmark case that could end almost five decades of Justice Department intervention that gives the federal government control over voting decisions in states and localities with a history of discrimination. Shelby County, Ala., is challenging a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections. If successful, the challenge, which the high court will hear Wednesday, would strike down a major legislative tenant of President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legacy — though it’s one many argue is outdated and unnecessary.
“It’s a significant case — the voting rights act is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation,” said Myrna Perez, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School. The law “becomes less and less controversial over time.”
The advance approval, or “preclearance” requirement, was adopted as part of the 1965 law to give the federal government a potent legal tool to defeat persistent efforts to keep blacks from voting.
But Shelby County, near Birmingham, says it has made significant progress in combating voter discrimination and no longer should be forced to live under oversight from Washington.