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Conservatives on high court cast doubt on voting law

Conservative Supreme Court justices on Wednesday signaled strong doubts about the ongoing validity of a key part of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to end a century of attempts by formerly slaveholding Southern states to block blacks from voting.

During a tense and sometimes fractious oral argument, which extended beyond the scheduled hour, the nine justices considered the claim made by officials from Alabama’s Shelby County that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed nearly five decades later. The county in the Deep South state had long chafed at federal oversight.

Throughout the argument, conservative and liberal justices alike asked probing, tough questions of all parties, regularly interrupting the lawyers and speaking over one another.

The bid to limit Section 5 comes amid what critics call concerted efforts by Republicans at the state level to suppress the vote of blacks and other Democratic-minded demographic groups. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, decried barriers to voting in America and announced a commission to address voting issues.

Section 5 enables Congress to exercise its authority under the Constitution’s 15th Amendment to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

The 15th Amendment, which gave blacks the right to vote, was adopted in 1870 – five years following the end of the Civil War, which was fought after an ultimately failed rebellion by Southern states intent upon maintaining black slavery.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote on racial issues, at one point during the argument said “times change” when it comes to weighing whether the nine states in question should still be treated differently from other states…

Source: Reuters

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