In a deeply divided 5-4 opinion the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that the federal government doesn't have ultimate authority in overseeing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In particular, the high court struck down a key provision of the act—Section 5—which gives the U.S. government open-ended oversight of states with a history of voter discrimination. Section 5 had given federal authorities the ability to block any change in voting laws or procedures in all or parts of 15 states.
Counties in Alabama and North Carolina, which sued the U.S. government in the landmark case, said the federal monitoring was "burdensome and unwarranted." But civil rights advocates said Section 5 protected minority voters from unfair manipulations of polling practices. They argued that if the court struck down Section 5, "the entire Voting Rights Act might crumble."
But Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion for today's ruling, said "the country has changed."
"While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions," wrote Roberts.
The Supreme Court ruling, in fact, leaves the matter to Congress to redraw appropriate jurisdictions for the affected states, counties and cities.