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Appeals court hears challenge to Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON — Appeals court judges expressed concern Thursday about whether to overrule Congress’ determination that some southern states and other jurisdictions still must have federal election monitoring to protect minority voting rights.

Alabama’s Shelby County is challenging a requirement under the Voting Rights Act that governments with a history of discrimination obtain federal approval to change even minor election procedures. An attorney for the county argued in federal appeals court in Washington that the South has changed and that extraordinary oversight is no longer needed.

But two of three judges on the panel hearing the case pointed out Congress renewed the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006 after finding that discrimination still exists. A lower court endorsed that finding.

“Why shouldn’t we defer to the judgment of Congress?” asked Judge Thomas Griffith, the Senate’s former top lawyer and a nominee of President George W. Bush. Judge David Tatel, a former civil rights attorney and appointee of President Bill Clinton, asked similar questions.