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US Supreme Court leans towards striking part of Voting Rights Act

Strong disagreement among justices over whether 1965 law meant to protect African American voters is still necessary

The supreme court appeared to lean toward striking down cornerstone civil rights legislation that has protected African Americans right to vote for half a century during a combative hearing on Wednesday.

The justices clashed over whether discrimination is still an issue with one, Antonin Scalia, deriding the legislation under dispute as "perpetuation of racial entitlement". They also disagree over whether it is for Congress or the courts to decide whether measures that discourage or diminish minority votes require federal intervention.

The case was brought by an Alabama county which argued that the state is being singled out by a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that subjects nine states with a history of disenfranchising black people, mostly in the south, to US Justice Department oversight of their election laws and procedures.

Bert Rein, representing Shelby County, told the court that the act has done its job in ensuring the right of African Americans to register and vote. He said it is unjust to continue to subject Alabama to a provision, known as Section 5, requiring the state to seek prior approval from the US Justice Department for changes to the conduct of its elections.

Rein said that when Congress renewed the act for 25 years in 2006 it should have taken into account the realities in Alabama at that time not the conditions in 1965. He argued that Shelby County should be considered in comparison to the conduct of other jurisdictions across the US today, not what it has done in the past.

But Rein was quickly challenged by Justice Sonia Sotomayor who described Shelby County as having a record that is "the epitome of what caused this law in the first place".


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