Supreme Court watchers and those listening to debates on race probably knew this day was coming. The U.S. Supreme Court about 20 minutes ago voided a key part of the Voting Rights Act.
Deep breath. The court did not question the validity or need for federal vigilance to keep polling places open to minorities, mainly African-American voters and mainly in the South – since the landmark was enacted in 1965. But justices said in a 5-4 split that enforcing one key provision required reliance on 40-year-old data.
Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions,” said Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.
The court’s debate about racial progress is echoed in its decision to pass on an affirmative action case, essentially acknowledging the effort is still needed to guarantee fairness in opportunity but also warning that such efforts must be narrowly-constructed and targeted.
My take: considerable racial progress has been made in America, but is it enough to guarantee equal opportunity? Anti-discrimination laws like the Voting Rights Act guarantee basic rights. Not jobs, houses or new cars, but simple American rights like the right to vote, to a good education, to live or work where you choose. It is the right to succeed or fail on your own merit, not because of racial bias, that my forebears sought. Are we there yet?
The court’s 2012-13 term ends at the end of June. Explore the most significant cases and decisions below:
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