Washington (CNN) – A predictably divided Supreme Court appeared ready to strike down – at least in part – the key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, with many conservative justices on Wednesday suggesting it was a constitutionally unnecessary vestige of the civil rights era.
Known as Section 5, it gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities mostly in the South with a history of voter discrimination.
Any changes in voting laws and procedures in all or parts of 16 covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington. That could include something as simple as moving a polling place temporarily across the street.
In a tense 80 minutes of oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why the court would rule "in favor of the county that is the epitome" of what caused the law to be passed in the first place.
Her three reliably liberal colleagues appeared to support continued use of the coverage formula run by the federal Justice Department.
But Justice Samuel Alito wondered why some states were subject to oversight and not others.
"Why shouldn't it apply everywhere in the country," he asked. The other four more conservative justices had tough questions for the Obama administration's positions.
This case will be one of the biggest the justices tackle this term, offering a social, political, and legal barometer on the progress of civil rights in the United States and the level of national vigilance still needed to ensure minorities have equal access to the election process.
A ruling in this appeal is expected by June.FULL STORY
(CNN) - As Black History Month draws to a close, we highlight African Americans in the arts, science and business who have carried on the legacy of past innovators in their fields. Click through the photo gallery for more examples.
Zora Neale Hurston, right, is lauded as one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Her work as an author was strongly influenced by her anthropological studies of the Caribbean and the American South. Today, director Ava DuVernay carries on the tradition of mixing art with cultural documentation. Her award-winning film, "Middle of Nowhere," follows the struggles of an African-American woman whose husband is incarcerated.FULL STORY
(CNNMoney) - The wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, due largely to inequality in home ownership, income, education and inheritances, according to a new study by Brandeis University.
That type of inequality can be a drag on economic growth for everyone, said Thomas Shapiro, director of the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy, which conducted the research.
The difference in wealth between typical households in each racial group ballooned to $236,500 in 2009, up from $85,000 in 1984, according to the study, released Wednesday. By 2009, the median net worth of white families was $265,000, while blacks had only $28,500.
Brandeis researchers looked at the same set of 1,700 families over the 25-year period to see how their actual work and school experiences affected their wealth accumulation.
What they found is that home ownership is driving the growing gap. Price appreciation is more limited in non-white neighborhoods, making it harder for blacks to build equity. Also, because whites are more likely to have family financial assistance for down payments, they are able to buy homes an average of eight years earlier than black families and to put down larger upfront payments that lower interest rates and mortgage costs.
The home ownership rate for whites is 28% higher than that of blacks.FULL STORY