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Voting Rights Act: Why many Southern states are glad of Supreme Court case

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Shelby County wants the Supreme Court to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional after the Justice Department nullified a local redistricting effort that attorneys argued played a role in the defeat of the sole black incumbent on the city council in Calera, Ala.

Some on the Supreme Court hinted earlier this year that they saw “serious constitutional problems” with the Voting Rights Act after the court sent a contested Texas electoral map to a lower court without ruling on it. Given that and other recent indications from certain justices, many legal experts believe that conservatives on the court are ready to rethink the future of key VRA enforcement provisions – at a time when many Democrats accuse Republicans in some states of trying to suppress the minority vote by tightening voting laws and registration rules. 

Lower federal and state courts have made a variety of rulings on new voter ID laws this year. In two cases – Pennsylvania and South Carolina – courts found the new laws constitutional, but blocked their implementation this year because the courts felt state officials and residents didn’t have enough time to adjust to the new requirements before Election Day.

While the high court upheld the Voting Rights Act in a 2009 case, conservative justices wondered then if the law had done its job so well that it now discriminated against Southern white people.

“Things have changed in the South,” argued Chief Justice John Roberts in 2009. “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”

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