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Supreme Court adds voting act to docket

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Friday that it will decide whether Congress went too far in extending the life of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights legislation now being challenged as antiquated in an America that elected an African-American as president.

The court will decide the constitutionality of the central provision of the act, which seeks to protect minority voting rights by requiring all or parts of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination, most in the South and including Florida, to receive federal approval before making any changes to its voting procedures.

In addition, the court accepted another case that will examine the role of race in public life. Justices said they will also hear a discrimination lawsuit filed by white firefighters who are challenging a city's decision to throw out a promotion exam because not enough black applicants scored well on the test.

The Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965, at a time when literacy tests and other schemes were routinely used, especially in parts of the South, to intimidate and exclude black voters. It has been expanded to include other minorities and its duration extended four times, mostly recently in 2006 by overwhelming congressional majorities.

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the constitutionality of the contested "pre-clearance" requirement that affects nine states and parts of seven others.

But it is now being challenged as an outrageous "badge of shame" on communities that have never discriminated, at a time when minorities have been elected to public office in record numbers.

Fast facts

Provision in question

Congress has extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act four times, in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006. Eight states are covered in their entirety: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. In Virginia, all but 15 cities and counties must comply with the measure. Parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota also need permission to make voting changes.

Supreme Court adds voting act to docket 01/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:46am]
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