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Voting Rights Act now under scrutiny

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Supreme Court could say as early as today whether the Voting Rights Act -- held up as a crown jewel of the civil rights era -- will consider ending act's advance approval requirement. Sidestepping this issue in a case from Texas in 2009, an opinion joined by eight justices, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the issue "is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Supreme Court has since warned there could be constitutional problems to an act that opened voting booths to millions of African-Americans. Opponents of a key part of the Voting Rights Act are now asking the high court to finish off that provision.

The chief question is whether state and local governments that once boasted of their "Jim Crow laws" can be forced to get federal permission before making changes in the way they hold elections.

Some local governments, mainly in the American south argue they have turned away from their dark days of racial discrimination. However, Congress and lower courts that have looked at recent challenges to the law say that a history of discrimination - along with recent efforts to harm minority voters justify continuing federal oversight.

Among the more shameful incidents in the congressional record --

 -- In 1998, Webster County, Georgia, tried to reduce the black population in several school board districts after citizens elected a majority-black school board for the first time.

- In 2001, Kilmichael, Mississippi, canceled an election when a large number of African-American candidates sought local office following 2000 census results that showed blacks had become the majority in the city.

-- In 2004, Waller County, Texas, sought to limit early voting near a historically black college, threatening to prosecute students for illegal voting after two black students said they would run for office.

In the meantime, the law's opponents sensed its vulnerability and filed several new lawsuits.

The advance approval, or pre-clearance requirement, was adopted in the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The requirement gave federal officials a potent weapon to defeat persistent efforts to keep blacks from voting.

Congress periodically has renewed it over the years, the most recent occasion was in 2006, when a Republican-led Congress overwhelmingly approved and President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension.

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 and New Hampshire.

Recent attention has been brought to this provision, triggered not only by past discrimination blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives and Hispanics.

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