The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.
Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.
Friday’s decision to accept the challenge from Shelby County, Ala., is the court’s second major case this term involving race. Last month, the justices heard a challenge to the University of Texas’s admissions policy that could redefine or eliminate the use of affirmative action in high-
This month, the court will decide whether to take up another civil rights issue: same-sex marriage. Two appeals courts have declared unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. The court must also decide whether to intervene in a decision by federal courts to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The Section 5 requirements were passed during the darkest days of the civil rights struggle, paving the way for expanded voting rights for African Americans and greatly increasing the number of minority officeholders.
But critics say that the method for selecting the places subject to the special supervision — which include nine states and parts of seven others — is outdated. They say Congress should have spent more time investigating whether those classifications still made sense.
“The America that elected and reelected Barack Obama . . . is far different than when the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965,” said Edward Blum of the Project on Fair Representation, which brought the challenge. “Congress unwisely reauthorized a bill that is stuck in a Jim Crow-era time warp.”
But the law’s defenders said it has proved its worth just in this election. Courts put on hold redistricting changes in Texas and voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina that they said would dilute minority rights. Courts also forced changes in Florida’s new early-voting procedures.
“In the midst of the recent assault on voter access, the Voting Rights Act is playing a pivotal role beating back discriminatory voting measures,” said Debo P. Adegbile, acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.