NOW with Alex Wagner | February 27, 2013
>> nbc justice correspondent, pete williams , is live in front of the supreme court . if you could give us an update, section v may be in danger.
>>reporter: part of voting five, the part that says any state covered by the law has to get federal permission before making changes to the law. as long as we are getting technical, section iv which sets out the formula that says which parts of the country are covered by the law. remember the constitutional part of this. it gives it states the decision to run their own elections. what congress said is the states had such a problem, were so discriminatory the federal government should override. the question now is is the problem still serious enough, "a" and does the law cover the areas where the problem is the most serious? now what several members of the court said today, the most liberal, it may not be perfect, but it's a pretty good fit if you look at where the problems persist. try to attack the voting changes. it's a pretty good fit with the coverage areas now. the conservatives on the court say yes, but the problem is you have areas in the south that do a better job getting black candidates elected. a better job of that than parts in the north. they brought up that massachusetts has a more serious problem with this than ma parts of the south. based on that, what is going to happen? i think it's safe to say there's at least five votes to strike down one or both parts of the act. either the coverage or preclearance totally. let's think about what would happen if that's the case. if the supreme court says okay, the preclearance is fine in theory, but we are going to throw out the coverage map and send it back to congress, the question is, would congress have the political will to redraw the maps and do what it did in 1965 all over again and sit-down and say okay, let's look at which states are doing a good job and which states are doing a bad job. i can't answer that question.
>> let me ask you this question. representative john lewis , who has been long involved in the civil rights movement . he points out the 16 jurisdictions affected by section v rep zen 25% of the nation's population, they still represent more than 80% of the lawsuits proving voter discrimination. did that come up at all today?
>> reporter: yes, those statistics were cited. that's the reason it's a close enough fit. let me bring up one other point. there was something one of the other justices said today that will echo for days to come. it's from justice scalia who is an opponent of the act. he said look at the votes in the senate when this has been renewed. first time, it was contentious. every time since then, most recently, 2006 , fewer people voted against it. it was 98-0 last time. why is that, he said. i think it's attributed to the racial entitlement that it's very difficult to get out -- to get away from that in the normal political process. in other words, he's saying you can't trust congress once it gives the voting rights act remedy to ever say that the time has come to take it away. but, i think it's fair to say, and we are already hearing it at the court, the phrase of racial entitlement is going to be controversial. back to the vote, the two justices that are most critical. we could assume justice scalia was going to oppose it. justice kennedy and justice roberts , everything seemed to be hostile that the coverage formula was the right one to keep. what several of the justices said is the problem with the law, it's reverse engineered. it's back word looking. it can't forward looking enough on where the problems still are. that's why i say i think there are five votes to modify the voting rights act in some way that would be a very serious blow to it.