US court weakens voting discrimination law

2013-06-26 09:04
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington — A deeply divided US Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the landmark law that forced open voting booths for minorities decades ago in the face of sometimes violent opposition in mostly Southern states, noting that the times have changed. President Barack Obama, the country's first black chief executive, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the decision.

Split along ideological and partisan lines, the justices voted 5-4 on Tuesday to halt enforcement of the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting get Washington's approval before changing the way they hold elections.

The Voting Rights Act was an emergency federal measure in 1965 — a turbulent time when it was not unusual for blacks to essentially be barred from voting in some parts of the country, and some civil rights activists on the issue were killed. The act was just one instance of the federal government stepping in during that era to make local governments obey the law and ensure equal rights for all.

Tuesday's ruling, led by Chief Justice John Roberts writing for a conservative majority, was the most dramatic decision so far as the high court re-examines the necessity of laws and programs aimed at giving racial minorities access to areas from which they once were systematically excluded.

The US racial landscape is rapidly changing. Census estimates look ahead to whites becoming a minority in coming decades.

Rights groups and the court's dissenting liberal justices warned that discrimination still exists.

Potent tool

"The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation's most important and effective civil rights laws. Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Obama, reelected last year with the strong support of black and Hispanic voters, called on Congress to reinvigorate the voting rights law.

"While today's decision is a setback, it doesn't represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination," the president said. "I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls."

The requirement for federal approval for proposed election changes was put into the law to give federal officials a potent tool to defeat persistent efforts to keep blacks from voting. But coverage also has been triggered by past discrimination against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives and Hispanics.

The requirement currently applies to the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some local jurisdictions in Michigan.

Tuesday's ruling came in a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham — one of the Southern cities where the civil rights struggle played out in the 1960s.


The lawsuit acknowledged that the measure had been appropriate and necessary to counteract decades of state-sponsored discrimination in voting, but it asked whether there was any end in sight for a provision that intrudes on states' rights to conduct elections.

Officials from the South had mixed reactions on Tuesday.

Representative Bennie Thompson, the only black lawmaker in Mississippi's congressional delegation, said the ruling "guts the most critical portion of the most important civil rights legislation of our time".

Alabama Governor Bentley, a Republican, pointed to his state's legislature — 27% black, similar to Alabama's overall population — as a sign of the state's progress.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.