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US Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Voting Rights


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling related to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress at the height of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960's and was designed to offer federal protection for minorities, especially African-Americans in the South, who were seeking to vote in states with a history of racial discrimination.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a small voting district in Texas can seek to be exempted from the law's requirement that any changes in voting procedures must be approved in advance by the federal government.

Critics of the law contend the civil rights climate in the South has changed substantially since the 1960's and that local authorities should no longer have to seek permission of the federal government to make changes to voting procedures.

But Monday's high court's ruling focused on a narrow part of the Voting Rights Act and did not address the larger issue of whether the law is constitutional and whether states should still be bound by its requirements.

Legal experts say that could leave the door open to another challenge to the Voting Rights Act in the future.

Civil rights groups hailed the Supreme Court decision as a victory because the court chose to sidestep the broader question about the law's constitutionality.

Nina Perales is with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"What the Supreme Court said today was that even if you are a little jurisdiction, if you want to get out from under the Voting Rights Act you can apply to bail out and if you meet the criteria, you can be released," she said.

But Perales adds that the Supreme Court decision is seen by her group and other civil rights organizations as a reaffirmation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was reauthorized by Congress in 2006.

"Congress noted it with the tremendous record that was compiled during the hearings on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, and the court itself noted that the Voting Rights Act has been responsible for eliminating a lot of discrimination," she added.

The high court ruling was eight to one, and the only dissenting vote was that of conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African-American on the court.

The challenge to the Voting Rights Act was one of the most closely watched cases of the Supreme Court's term, which draws to an end next week.

Senate confirmation hearings will begin July 13 for Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's nominee for the high court. If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would take the place of retiring Justice David Souter and would be seated on the court in time for the next session beginning in October.

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