The U.S. Supreme Court will consider overturning a signal achievement of the civil rights movement, agreeing to hear a challenge to part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a case loaded with racial and political ramifications.
Acting three days after minority voters propelled President Barack Obama to re-election, the court yesterday said it will review a provision that requires all or part of 16 mostly Southern states to get federal approval before changing their voting rules. Opponents say that “preclearance” provision is no longer warranted.
With the justices already considering whether to roll back university affirmative action, the court’s current term is now a potential watershed for the legal rules governing race. Chief Justice John Roberts has questioned the constitutionality of the preclearance rule, which the Obama administration used this year to stop Republican-backed voter-identification laws in Texas and South Carolina from going into effect.
Preclearance “has been one of the most powerful tools in the civil rights arsenal,” said Heather Gerken, a professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut, who specializes in election and constitutional law. “It’s made more of a difference in improving the civil rights of African Americans than any other statute I can think of.”
The court will hear arguments early next year and rule before its term ends in late June. The justices yesterday also agreed to decide whether states can collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a serious crime.