Washington: The US Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which guards against racial discrimination in US states with a segregationist past.
In a hotly anticipated decision, the court ruled 5-4 that Section 4 of the 1965 law was unconstitutional, calling on Congress to redefine which states must seek government approval for changes to their electoral codes.
"Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion.
The Voting Rights Act -- which was last renewed by Congress in 2006 -- is opposed by some states which see it as outmoded, but a number of civil rights organisations argue it is still needed.
Under the act, nine mainly southern states and local governments in seven other states are required to obtain Justice Department approval for any changes to their voting laws.
The case came to the Supreme Court months after the re-election of the first black US president, Barack Obama -- something critics pointed to as evidence that the law is unnecessary.
The nine-member court had left the law alone the last time they reviewed it in 2009, but strongly urged Congress to reform it on the grounds that "things have changed in the South."