The Supreme Court’s conservative wing will almost certainly strike down a key provision of a 1965 civil rights law designed to get minorities to the polls, according to multiple news sources.Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires states with a history of discrimination (mostly in the South) to get permission from the federal government before making any changes to their voting procedures.
The law’s opponents argue that it’s no longer necessary in a post-Jim Crow era, and Justice John Roberts seemed to reflect that sentiment during Wednesday’s arguments.
“Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?” Roberts asked the federal government’s lawyer, according to USA Today.
USA Today reported that Justice Clarence Thomas, a Georgia native and the court’s only black justice, said nothing during arguments on Wednesday, as is his custom.
But in a previous dissent in a case involving the Voting Rights Act, Thomas wrote that “the extensive pattern of discrimination” that necessitated the law in 1965 no longer exists.
Meanwhile, “swing voter” Justice Anthony Kennedy uttered this telling phrase during arguments, according to USA Today: “Times change.”
Tom Goldstein, a top Supreme Court attorney, writes in SCOTUSBlog that a majority of the court “seems committed to invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
“The vote seems quite likely to be five-to-four,” Goldstein writes.
While the Supreme Court will likely let Congress enact a new measure for a so-called “preclearance regime,” it’s unlikely that could happen in an era of Congressional gridlock.
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