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Voting Rights Act case: Supreme Court questioning is lively, pointed (+video)

At the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, defenders of the 1965 Voting Rights Act argued that the judiciary should defer to Congress's judgment that the law is still needed as is. Several justices indicated that they thought not.

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A sharply divided US Supreme Court engaged in a lively and, at times, impassioned debate on Wednesday in a potential landmark case testing whether key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act should be struck down as unconstitutional.

The 75-minute session marked the second time in four years the high court has agreed to examine the constitutionality of Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Four years ago, in 2009, the court stopped short of invalidating the measures. But the justices made clear in an 8-to-1 decision that the VRA contained constitutional deficiencies that Congress should address.

Congress didn’t.

This time around the tone was significantly more aggressive, with justices on the court’s liberal wing offering spirited defenses of the VRA in its current form and justices on the conservative wing suggesting the law is seriously flawed.

In the first comment from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor ripped into Washington lawyer Bert Rein, who is representing Alabama's Shelby County in its challenge to the statute. She said 240 discriminatory voting laws had been blocked in the county under Section 5 of the VRA. Then she asked: “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”

Later in the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts raised questions about why some states are listed as covered jurisdictions, but others with similar discrimination records are not.

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