The right to vote is sometimes said to be the most fundamental in American democracy. Yet legal challenges to the federal voting rights law are increasing even as they highlight the racial injustices that make it essential. In a ruling last week, Judge John Bates of Federal District Court rightly dismissed such a challenge by Shelby County, Ala., which sought to have a central part of the law declared unconstitutional.
That provision, Section 5, requires states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” of any changes in local voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. Because it was common for jurisdictions to adopt new discriminatory practices after a court struck down old ones, the 1965 Voting Rights Act required the “covered” jurisdictions — six Southern states, and other counties and cities around the country — to show that any proposed rule change would not discriminate against minorities. Congress renewed Section 5 in 2006.