THE US Supreme Court has gutted a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to end a century of attempts by former slaveholding states to block black citizens from voting.
In a 5-4 ruling yesterday with the court’s conservatives in the majority, the justices ruled that Congress had used obsolete reasoning in continuing to force nine states, mainly in the South, to get federal approval for voting rule changes affecting blacks and other minorities.
The court ruled in favour of officials from Shelby County, Alabama, by declaring invalid a section of the law that set a formula that determines which states need federal approval to change voting laws.
President Barack Obama quickly called on Congress to pass a new law to ensure equal access to voting polls for all.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today,” Obama, the first black US president, said in a statement, adding that the court’s action “upsets decades of
well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”
The ruling upended important legal protections for minority voters that were a key achievement of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jr. The decision also placed the burden on Congress - sharply divided along party lines to the point of virtual gridlock - to pass any new voting rights law such as the one sought by Obama.
One of the most closely watched disputes of the court’s current term, the case centres on the civil rights-era law that broadly prohibited poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures that prevented blacks from voting. In the 1960s, such laws existed throughout the country but were more prevalent in the South with its legacy of slavery.