U.S. Supreme Court to tackle key voting rights provision

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether the key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 should be scrapped as 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 with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington.

The provision was reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for another quarter-century, and an Alabama county subsequently filed suit, saying the monitoring is overly burdensome and unwarranted.

The 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.

Oral arguments will be held next year, with a ruling expected by June.

The case is Shelby County, AL v. Holder (12-96).