On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear two cases challenging state and federal laws which prevent the legal union between same-sex couples.
But it’s not the only significant civil rights case the Court has decided to take up this term.
Last month, the Supreme Court said it will consider the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hallmark legislation from the Civil Rights era that has come under increased challenge.
The cornerstone provision is known as Section 5, which holds some states accountable to get federal clearance before making any changes to their voting laws.
Many think the Court’s decision to hear the case, announced just three days after the election, spells doom for the cornerstone provision. But whatever the justices’ decision, the case may end up, as the influential SCOTUSBlog put it, “as one of the most significant rulings of the current Term.”
Oral arguments in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, are set for next year, with a decision expected by June. Let’s take a step back and see why this case is so consequential:
What’s Section 5 again?
As we’ve explained before, Section 5 requires nine mostly Southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Virginia, Texas and Arizona — and areas of seven others to preclear any change to a voting law or procedure with the federal government.
This review is conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If a voting change hasn’t been submitted for review, the change can be legally unenforceable.
Section 5, which was enacted by the original Voting Rights Act, was meant to address the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans by state lawmakers in the South since the end of Reconstruction.
Under the provision, covered jurisdictions must prove that any proposed voting change doesn’t have a discriminatory purpose or effect or would diminish minorities’ ability to elect a favored candidate.