Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and next week, the nine justices will hear oral arguments for and against the landmark legislation. Their decision could change the course of political history.
Section 5 of the VRA requires that many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or from a federal court in Washington before making changes that affect voting. The act was most recently reauthorized by Congress in 2006, and after a 2012 election cycle rife with voter suppression efforts, that the Supreme Court took up the challenge at all is alarming for civil rights advocates.
The law currently applies to 16 states, the majority of which are in the South. According to The Nation’s Ari Berman, “The current campaign against the VRA is the result of three key factors: a Whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.” And of the 11 formerly Confederate States, eight have passed new voting restrictions over the past two years.