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Supreme Court rightly cites 'old data' in Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court has rightly decided that the Voting Rights Act's 'extraordinary measures' to prevent voting discrimination must be directed toward places where discrimination is going on now, not where it happened nearly 50 years ago.

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Shelby County, Ala., lawyer Bert Rein speaks with reporters outside the Supreme Court in February, after arguments in the Shelby County v. Holder voting rights case. Op-ed contributor Jonathan S. Tobin writes: 'Even those opposed to the court’s decision today must acknowledge [that] voting rights in the South...are as protected now as they are in any other part of the country.'

Evan Vucci/AP

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Racism is the original sin of American history. But acknowledging this should not mean ignoring America’s racial progress since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was enacted to help right this wrong. By striking down a key provision of the act today, the Supreme Court has rightly decided that the act’s “extraordinary measures” to prevent voting discrimination must be directed toward places where discrimination is going on now, not where it happened nearly 50 years ago.

In a 5-4 ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the court upheld the principle that localities with a history of discrimination be subject to approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws. But it struck down as unconstitutional the formula to determine those locations, because that formula is based on “decades-old data,” as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. Unless Congress updates the formula, approval – which has blindly covered 15 states in part or in whole – can’t be applied.

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