Monday, April 27, 2009

Battle between states and federal government

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case determining the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This section of the 1965 federal law requires approval from the Justice Department before any changes can be made in how elections are conducted in 16 states with histories of discrimination against minority voters.

A utility district in Texas that evidences no history of discrimination is challenging the law and the Obama administration is defending it. In 2006, a majority of both parties in Congress voted to extend the requirement for 25 more years and President George W. Bush signed the measure into law. States that have reversed government-sponsored discrimination object to remaining under federal supervision.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has heard a challenge to the advance-approval provision, but the addition of two new Justices, Alito and Roberts, give opponents to Section 5 hope that this time it will rule against the federal government.

Teaching Current Events with the Constitution:

Ask students to reflect critically on their own communities. Do they think that voter discrimination is ancient history? Or do they think there is still a role for the national government in supervising states’ changes to their election procedures?

Students should review the constitutional amendments that guarantee the right to vote to minorities and determine for themselves whose responsibility it is to ensure that the rights are protected.

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