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High Court Voids Key Part Of Voting Rights Act

U.S. Supreme Court justices

The United States Supreme Court. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Supreme Court says a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced until Congress comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require close federal monitoring of elections.

The justices said in 5-4 ruling Tuesday that the 1965 law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.

The high court ruled that Congress must update its formula for deciding which states and local governments still need federal approval before changing voting laws. It said the formula in the 1965 act is based on old patterns of discrimination that might no longer be valid.

University of Illinois Latino and Latina Studies Professor Jorge Chapa said he does not think the court's decision will have a huge impact on Illinois, but he believes it is still a major setback on efforts nationwide to end voter discrimination.

 “Well, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach,” Chapa said, describing how he felt when he learned about the ruling.

The section of the law that the justices ruled unconstitutional does not apply to Illinois, but instead nine mostly southern states and parts of six other states.

Chapa said he is not worried about Illinois trying to create discriminatory voting laws. However, he said about 30 other states have tried to do that, and in many cases have been successful.

“Many political parties game the political system in part by changing the rules," Chapa said. "You can see these voterized ID laws often seem to be an effort to minimize voting of old people, poor people, minorities.”

Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery calls the Supreme Court’s ruling "a slap in the face" to Civil Rights activists who fought for the Voting Rights Act.

"I was really shocked that they made this decision," Avery said. "We've been waiting a long time for the court to hand out a ruling, and needless to say we're very disappointed in the ruling."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the the ruling is a “devastating blow" that will destroy gains in "inclusion and expansion,' and threaten decades of progress in ensuring minorities are not denied the right to vote.

Jackson urged the White House to encourage President Obama and the Department of Justice to challenge the ruling.

In a statement, President Barack Obama said he is deeply disappointed with the court's ruling. He said voting discrimination in the U.S. still exists, but that efforts to end voting discrimination will continue. Obama wants Congress to pass laws to ensure every American has equal voting access.

Categories: Government, Law, Race/Ethnicity