In the midst of the Petraeus maelstrom, I just heard another important breaking story on MSNBC. Forgive me if it's already been diaried.

See the details from SCOTUSblog below the fluffy orange cloud:


Acting three days after the nation’s minority voters showed that they have increased and still growing power in U.S. elections, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on a challenge to Congress’s power to protect those groups’ rights at the polls.  The Court said it would hear claims that Congress went beyond its authority when it extended for another 25 years the nation’s most important civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and renewed four times since then.

Specially at issue is the constitutionality of the law’s Section 5, the most important provision, under which nine states and parts of seven others with a past history of racial bias in voting must get official clearance in Washington before they may put into effect any change in election laws or procedures, no matter how small.  The Court came close to striking down that section three years ago, but instead sent Congress clear signals that it should update the law so that it reflects more recent conditions, especially in the South.  Congress did nothing in reaction.

The Court accepted the Voting Rights case from Shelby County, Ala., and agreed to review three other new cases . . .

In agreeing to rule on the Voting Rights Act, the Court limited its review to a question which it composed itself: ”Whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage fomulal of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.”   The Tenth Amendment protects the powers of states by limiting Congress’s powers.  Article IV guarantees each state a “republican form of government,” meaning it is protected in its right of self-government.   The question specified by the Court differed from that posed by Shelby County’s lawyers only by adding a reference to the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case to be decided in Shelby County v. Holder (12-96).

The LA Times wrote about the case in October:
In the voting rights case, Shelby County in Alabama is challenging the pre-clearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires advance approval of any voting-related change, no matter how minor, in parts or all of 16 states, many of which are Deep South states with long histories of discrimination. In asking that Section 5 be declared unconstitutional, Shelby County relies on familiar arguments, including the contention that minorities vote and are elected to office in pre-clearance states at rates comparable to those in other states.

Several justices may be sympathetic to those arguments. In 2009, Roberts noted that "things have changed in the South" and therefore that Section 5 and the formula used to trigger pre-clearance raised "serious constitutional questions." But Congress spent a good deal of time studying the issue when it extended Section 5 in 2006 and concluded that voting discrimination requires special attention in so-called covered jurisdictions. That congressional judgment is entitled to deference from the Supreme Court.


In an October editorial, The New York Times opined:

A section of the act requires states and other jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to obtain clearance from the Justice Department or a court before changing voting procedures. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has already expressed his distaste for this provision. That provision is an essential safeguard against unfair voting procedures and enforces the core purpose of the 15th Amendment, and should be upheld.

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