Conservative legal activists are set to renew their campaign to overturn the nation’s landmark Voting Rights Act, arguing before a federal district judge in Washington on Wednesday that states and local jurisdictions should no longer be forced to justify voting changes to the Justice Department or a federal court.
The lawsuit, brought by officials in Shelby County, Ala., revives a constitutional challenge aimed at the heart of the 1965 law, a challenge that many analysts called the most important issue of the year when it reached the Supreme Court in 2009.
The high court ultimately sidestepped the question, but not before Chief Justice John G. Roberts, writing for the panel’s ascendant conservative majority, signaled a willingness to entertain future challenges, writing, “Things have changed in the South.”
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District set 21/2 hours for arguments Wednesday in the ceremonial courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in downtown Washington – four blocks from the Supreme Court, where many observers expect the case ultimately to wind up.
At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval – or “pre-clearance” – for any changes in election laws or redistricting decisions in nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others.
Congress overwhelmingly passed the law and the Supreme Court upheld it to dismantle a system of poll taxes, literacy tests and other strategies used for decades by white leaders in the deep South and elsewhere to suppress registration and turnout by voting-age blacks.