[Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is] at the heart of one of the marquee cases of the Supreme Court’s term, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, which will be argued on Feb. 27. It was brought by Shelby County, near Birmingham, and it contends that the provision has outlived its purpose of protecting minority voters in an era when a black man has been re-elected to the presidency.
The Voting Rights Act was a triumph of the civil rights movement. It was a response, the Supreme Court said in upholding it in 1966, to “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.”
Congress was entitled, the court went on, “to limit its attention to the geographic areas where immediate action seemed necessary.” Lawmakers chose the areas to be covered based on a formula that considered whether they had used devices to discourage voting, like literacy tests, and data from the 1964 election.
The court in Mobile this month said the case before it, concerning Evergreen, was simple: because the city had not obtained preclearance from federal authorities, it could not revise its voting list using utility records. Nor could it use a municipal redistricting plan enacted by the City Council that had concentrated black voters, who are in the majority, into just two of the five districts, limiting black voting power.