Conservative justices on the United State Supreme Court hinted on Wednesday that the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) would soon be ruled unconstitutional.
The landmark achievement of the civil rights movement sought to stop discrimination against black voters by barring poll taxes and literacy tests in southern states, but the conservative justices suggested on Wednesday that it was now those Southern states that were the victims of discrimination.
"Is it the government's submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, according to USA Today.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who VRA supporters had hoped would be a swing vote, indicated that he too was ready gut the law, accusing Congress of "reverse engineering" with its 2006 reauthorization of the Section 5 restrictions on southern states.
"Times change," Kennedy said.
Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that an overwhelming number of lawmakers in both parties had voted to reauthorize the law in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006. Scalia argued that the nearly-unanimous reauthorizations proved that lawmakers were scared to be seen voting against discrimination, calling it "a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement."
"I think it's a safe prediction to say that the Voting Rights Act, as it now stands, is not going to survive," NBC's Pete Williams reported on Wednesday after the oral arguments. "The question is how far will the Supreme Court go in striking parts of it down?"
The court is expected to rule on Shelby County v. Holder, the case challenging Section 5, in the coming months. The Voting Rights Act has previously been upheld by the Supreme Court on four different occasions.
Watch this video from MSNBC, broadcast Feb. 27, 2013.