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Supreme Court to review minority voting rights law

(Reuters) – The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to review a legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act, a landmark law adopted in 1965 to protect African-American voters who had faced decades of discrimination at the polls.

The high court accepted an appeal brought by Shelby County, Alabama, challenging a core provision of the act that requires nine states and several local governments with a history of bias to get federal permission to change their election procedures.

Arguments in the case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court in early 2013, with a decision expected by the end of June.

Shelby County sued in 2010, challenging Section 5 of the law, which demands that places with a history of discrimination obtain approval from the Justice Department or a special court for new district lines, ballot rules or other election changes.

The federal screening aims to ensure that any proposed changes do not impair voting rights based on race. It covers all or part of 16 states, most of them in the South.

The suit contends that the preclearance requirement is a federal encroachment on state sovereignty that is no longer needed after more than 40 years of fighting racial discrimination.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a 2-1 decision in May upheld the federal preclearance requirement, saying Congress had enough evidence of recent racial discrimination to justify reauthorizing the law in 2006.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, Shelby County’s lawyer argued the statute’s coverage formula was based on data more than 35 years old, and that discrimination no longer existed in the places singled out for screening.

The case is Shelby County, Alabama, v. Holder, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-96.

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