msnbc | February 25, 2013
>>> to go the supreme court is going to hear arguments in a case that examines the constitutionality of a law considered the most effective civil rights statute in american history . the law is the voting rights act signed by lyndon johnson in 1965 . what's under scrutiny, section 5 of the act. requires states in areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws and nine poll states and parts of seven others are subject to it. the significance of that is not lost on civil rights activists. many are ramping up their messaging ahead of wednesday's case. pete williams joins me now with more on this. pete, what fueled the case that's under debate here? let's talk specifically about how it is raised to the level it is now.
>> it is an appeal from shelby county , alabama, one of the areas covered. basically that this law has time passed us by. when congress renewed it in 2006 , renewed four times, they didn't marshal enough evidence to show that it is still constitutional because it turns everything upside down. anything the states do to change their election rules is presumed to be improper until they get federal permission and say that violates state sovereignty . the question is the voting rights act still current enough to pass the constitutional test. what many of the states say, including shelby county is, there are parts of the south where a -- blacks register, rote and elect people in greater numbers than in many parts of the mortds that are not cover bid the voting rights act and say it is unfair. thomas, four years ago the supreme court came close to striking it down and said congress should change the formula. formula has not changed. that's why there is a lot of concern that this law might be struck down.
>> i want to get you on the record about the reporting you have today from the supreme court . the justices are having a strong response to some race related remarks that are tied to a recent case. what happened there?
>> this was a drug case out of texas. a man who was charged with conspiracy. the question is was he along for the ride or did he know people he was with were engaging in sales of illegal drugs. he says that he went away from them when he walk mood the hotel room with a bag of money. here is the question. the prosecutor asked him, you have african-americans, you have hispanics and you have a bag full of money. doesn't that tell you a light bulb doesn't go in your head and say this is a drug deal? he tried to get the conviction overturned and said it was an appeal to racial prejudice . the supreme court declined to take the case because they said the lawyers did not properly raise the question below. justice sotomayor joined by justice brian gave a tongue lasher to the prosecutor. they said, quote, it is deeply disturbing to see a representative of the u.s. resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century .
>> justice correspondent pete williams . thanks so much.