Only three days after the contentious 2012 election, the Supreme Court announced today that it would take up a major voting rights case; it will be heard in the next few months and decided by June.
At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965. It's a central provision of the law that requires states with a history of voter discrimination, mostly in the South, to clear any changes to their election laws with federal officials in Washington.
The Supreme Court's decision today comes just after a long and bitter election during which Democrats accused Republicans of voter supression tactics and Republicans feared voter fraud. "After the biggest push to restrict voting in decades, the battle over voting rights is now moving to the Supreme Court with a major case, which could determine the future of a critical provision of the federal voting law that guarantees equal voting rights," said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. a liberal-leaning think tank/advocacy group at New York University.
Several covered states argue that while Section 5 "served a noble purpose," Congress was wrong in 2006 to extend it for 25 more years. They argue that things have changed in the South and the coverage formula of Section 5 is based on data that is more than 35 years old.
The case the Court agreed to hear is called Shelby County v. Holder. Shelby County is in Alabama.
Attorney General Eric Holder has defended Section 5 and called it a "key stone" of the historic law. Chief Justice John Roberts, in a 2009 opinion in a related case, wrote that some of the justices had "serious misgivings" about its constitutionality.
Section 5 affects Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and portions of seven other states.