published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Alabama case Feb. 27

This file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.
This file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COLUMBIANA, Ala. — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 27 on efforts by an Alabama county to stop enforcement of part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which opened Southern polling places to millions of black voters.

The decision could affect 16 states, including Georgia.

The court initially agreed in November to hear the case brought by Shelby County, and it has now set the date for attorneys to present their arguments.

At issue is part of the Voting Rights Act that requires the Justice Department to review and approve changes in elections laws in Alabama and several others states to make sure they don’t discriminate against minorities. That includes when politicians design new districts for every office from city council to Congress.

A lawyer for Shelby County, Butch Ellis, told the requirement is costly and outdated. He said predominantly white Shelby County has elected a black school board member in a countywide race and the majority white town of Harpersville has elected a black mayor.

“Alabama is not the same as it was in 1964,” Ellis said. “In our situation, we’ve got a pretty good track record here in Shelby County.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund says the Voting Rights Act needs to stay intact because it is a safeguard from racial discrimination. The defense fund is representing several Shelby County residents who want to keep the law as it is. One of them, former county commissioner Earl Cunningham, said the Justice Department review is the heart of the Voting Rights Act and the effort to maintain it is a “fight for liberty and justice.”

The Voting Rights Act applies to all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota and some local jurisdictions in Michigan and New Hampshire.

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