It is the misfortune of Shelby County, Ala., to challenge a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, following an election when political partisans tried new ways of suppressing minority voting participation. Voter surveys showed Republicans trailing badly among blacks and Hispanics. Certain Republican-run jurisdictions tried a number of tactics to hold down minority voting: restrictions on early voting, bans on same-day voter registration, or understaffed or inconveniently located polling places that led to frustratingly long lines. Shelby County was seeking to get out from under the 1965 law’s requirement that nine states and parts of seven others with egregious histories of denying or hindering the minority right to vote get pre-approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws.
The jurisdictions seeking to overturn the law argued before the Supreme Court that it unfairly impinged on their sovereignty and, further, that race relations had evolved to the point where the law was no longer needed. Judging from the questioning at oral arguments, the court’s conservative bloc seems inclined to go along.
Among the worst offenders in this new post-Jim Crow era of voter suppression were a number of the nine states. The fact that states not covered by the law were also serious offenders would argue for expanding, not scrapping, the law, as the Supreme Court suggested when it last heard a challenge to the law in 2009.