Washington: A deeply divided US Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the landmark law that forced open voting booths for blacks decades ago in the face of sometimes violent opposition in mostly Southern states, noting that the times have changed.
President Barack Obama, the country`s first black chief executive, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the decision.
Split along ideological and partisan lines, the justices voted 5-4 yesterday to halt enforcement of the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting get Washington`s approval before changing the way they hold elections.
The Voting Rights Act was an emergency federal measure in 1965 a turbulent time when it was not unusual for blacks to essentially be barred from voting in some parts of the country, and some civil rights activists on the issue were killed.
The act was just one instance of the federal government stepping in during that era to make local governments obey the law and ensure equal rights for all.
Yesterday`s ruling, led by Chief Justice John Roberts writing for a conservative majority, was the most dramatic decision so far as the high court re-examines the necessity of laws and programs aimed at giving racial minorities access to areas from which they once were systematically excluded.
The US racial landscape is rapidly changing. Census estimates look ahead to whites becoming a minority in coming decades.
Rights groups and the court`s dissenting liberal justices warned that discrimination still exists.
"The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation`s most important and effective civil rights laws.
Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades," said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers` Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Obama, reelected last year with the strong support of black and Hispanic voters, called on Congress to reinvigorate the voting rights law.
"While today`s decision is a setback, it doesn`t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination," the president said. "I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls."
The requirement for federal approval for proposed election changes was put into the law to give federal officials a potent tool to defeat persistent efforts to keep blacks from voting.