The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule this week – as early as Monday -- on a crucial piece of legislation that impacts voting and laws that govern minority voter access around the country.
The justice will rule on a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires several states, counties and cities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain approval from the Justice Department, or “preclearance,” before changes in voting laws are enacted.
The prospects of a decision by the court on Section 5 of the legislation has caused some nervousness in recent months among civil rights advocates and lawyers, who look at close decisions by the court that have often been decided by its more conservative members.
If the court decides to strike down that part of the law, which it has signaled a willingness to do in earlier deliberations, it would dramatically reduce the federal government’s role in overseeing voter discrimination issues in a large area of the country.
“We’re expecting a close decision a decision that will have a big impact on voting rights across the country,” said Edward A. Hailes Jr., general counsel for the Advancement Project, a civil rights group based in Washington, in an interview with BET.com
“We’re hopeful that the court will follow the direction of the Congress and make a determination that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still needed,” said Hailes, a former general counsel for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “We saw in the 2012 elections that t protections are still needed.”
The case, Shelby County v. Holder, focuses on an area in Alabama that maintains that the history of racial discrimination in voting is now over and that it is unfair to single out various municipalities to undergo strict scrutiny in election changes when other cities and counties in the nation are exempt.
On the other hand, civil rights advocates and others have maintained that there remains a need to protect the rights of voters by oversight from the federal government. They cite the difficulties that would emerge as a result of various voter identification laws that are being considered by a number of states with Republican-controlled legislatures.
“There is a lot of suspense around the country about this ruling,” Hailes said.
“What’s at stake here is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and the willingness of our democracy to embrace people who are voters of color and new voters.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)