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Supreme Court Hears Arguments About Voting Rights Act

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The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about a section of the Voting Rights Act that applies only to certain states. Washington bureau reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At the Capitol Wednesday, President Obama unveiled a statue of Rosa Parks.

Across the street, dozens took to the steps of the Supreme Court and rallied as the nine justices heard arguments into a case that originated in Alabama and aims to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

"A word of advice: If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Representative Yvette Clarke.

Section 5 requires nine states, plus parts of seven others, including New York's Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws. All of those places have a history of infringing on minority voting rights.

On Wednesday, some justices suggested the law is outdated.

Justice Antonin Scalia called it a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a key swing vote, questioned whether Alabama was "under the trusteeship of the United States."

"We and the other covered states need to be considered with the same sovereignty as the non-covered jurisdictions do," said Butch Ellis of Shelby County, Alabama.

Congress has extended the voting rights act several times, most recently in 2006, when it was approved overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

The liberal justices on the court appeared to support the law. They argued that southern states still have problems with minority voters, and said that even if the law were changed, places like Alabama would still need oversight.

Supporters pointed to efforts last year to enact voter ID laws as proof.

"If you live in the south, you continue to understand what goes on in the south," said Garry Bledsoe of NAACP Texas. "If you're there dealing with the kinds of irregularities that go on a daily basis, you'd understand fully that we need Section 5."

A decision isn't expected until late spring or early summer.

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