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Appeals court upholds key provision of Voting Rights Act. Supreme Court could loom

A federal court on Friday rejected an Alabama county's argument that a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights act is outdated. That could set the stage for a Supreme Court hearing. 

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A divided federal appeals court panel on Friday upheld Congress’s 2006 extension of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, setting the stage for an expected showdown over the civil rights law at the US Supreme Court.

Section 5 of the VRA requires states, counties, and other jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in elections to obtain pre-approval from Washington before enacting any changes to election procedures that might undercut minority voting.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 2 to 1 to throw out a lawsuit filed by Shelby County, Alabama that challenged the reauthorization of Section 5. Lawyers for the county argued that Congress was not justified in automatically reimposing the Section 5 requirements on the same states and jurisdictions identified as egregious discriminators nearly 50 years ago. They say the state is being punished for past problems that no longer exist.

At issue is whether Congress’s decision to extend Section 5 of the VRA for 25 years meets a Supreme Court requirement that the remedy be “congruent and proportional” to the level of discrimination that currently exists in nine states and parts of seven other states covered by the provision.  

A federal judge rejected the county’s argument and upheld the statute. On Friday, the appeals court affirmed that result, eliciting praise from civil rights organizations.

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