How the Supreme Court could reshape racial politics in America

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

If it rules as expected in two closely-watched cases over the next few months, the U.S. Supreme Court, lead by five conservative justices, will cement a view it has already suggested in the past: America is increasingly beyond race.

On Wednesday, the justices will listen to oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, in which an Alabama county is challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to block changes in voting and election laws in a group states, most of which are in the South, that historically made it harder for blacks to vote.

The court is expected to issue a ruling on this case in June or July, around the same time it is expected to announce its ruling on a case argued last year about the constitutionality of using racial preferences in college admissions.

The five conservative-leaning judges on the court have hinted before at their discomfort with the Voting Rights Act, arguing it unfairly targets states in the South, as well as with affirmative action, which they view as seeking to undo the effects of racial discrimination through a policy that also uses racial discrimination. But ruling in the same month against affirmation action and the Voting Rights Act, both strongly favored by American civil rights groups and many liberals, would combine to deliver a huge message from the Supreme Court on the future of race and policy in America.

The Obama administration is defending both affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act in these hearings.