The U.S. government must make a top priority of defending the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees the right of ethnic minorities to cast ballots, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Sunday.
The Supreme Court is reviewing a ruling that upholds a provision of the act under which 16 states and some counties, mainly in the South, are prevented from making changes to their voting laws without federal approval.
Plaintiffs challenging a renewal of the act say times have changed since the 1960s, blacks are no longer excluded from voting and the act amounts to unwarranted interference in state affairs.
“We must commit ourselves to continue to defend the Voting Rights Act that is under attack,” Holder said, arguing that the task is just as important as reviving the U.S. economy and fighting foreign wars.
Passed in 1965, the act outlawed literacy and character tests and property requirements to determine whether a person was eligible to vote. Southern states had used the requirements to keep blacks from the polls.